- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

RICHMOND Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley grabbed the endorsement of another taxpayers' advocacy group yesterday in his effort to draw a line between himself and Democrat Mark R. Warner on taxes.
The National Taxpayers Union Campaign Fund joined the list of Mr. Earley's backers, with President John Berthoud noting a clear difference between Mr. Earley's and Mr. Warner's stances on taxes.
"We don't get involved in a lot of gubernatorial races, but we decided to weigh in on this one because we think there's a clear choice for Virginians," Mr. Berthoud said, citing Mr. Earley's support for phasing out the car tax on time next year, and his opposition to a sales-tax referendum in Northern Virginia.
He echoed Mr. Earley's contention that the election was about whom voters trusted on the tax issue, and that Mr. Warner's history had been to support tax increases, not oppose them.
Democrats countered by issuing a list of times when Mr. Earley changed his position on the sales-tax referendum, and they charged that voters couldn't be sure what he would do on the car tax or the referendum.
"This is the same old ridiculous blather that Mr. Earley has been spewing with no credibility for weeks," said Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Warner.
"Only one candidate in this race has voted to raise taxes, and it's not Mark Warner," he said, referring to a bill Mr. Earley supported in 1997 that would have eliminated the car tax gradually but replaced it with a sales-tax increase. Mr. Earley said the bill was revenue neutral one tax would be replaced dollar-for-dollar by the other tax but Democrats said the sales tax would have been more adverse to the poor.
For the candidates still to be talking about taxes at this point is a victory for the Earley campaign.
The focus of the argument has been Mr. Warner's $2.25 billion transportation plan, released in September. As part of his plan, Mr. Warner said he would allow regions of the state to put a sales-tax increase to voters in a referendum. But he also included the proceeds from a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia in his plan and said he would issue $900 million in bonds based on the tax proceeds.
Mr. Earley immediately said that by including the proceeds from the increase in his plan, Mr. Warner was effectively advocating the tax increase. That is a message he has included in several television commercials and in mailings, and a message he hopes to ride to victory.
Mr. Warner has responded with his own television ads accusing Mr. Earley of distortion and lying about the issue. Mr. Warner says he isn't advocating the tax, just the ability to let localities put the proposal before voters. He says it is a local-control issue, not a tax issue.
The campaigns were left to argue over whether Mr. Earley's attack on the tax issue was working, but a Mason-Dixon poll last week gave mixed signals.
A plurality of voters 46 percent said they thought the plan amounted to a tax increase, while 28 percent said it didn't. The rest of the voters were not sure. On the other hand, 55 percent of Northern Virginia voters supported letting the issue go to referendum, but a majority of them 51 percent, according to the poll would vote against it anyway.


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