- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Taxes are finally at the fore of the Virginia governor's race now that Republican candidate Mark L. Earley has begun running a television ad charging that Democrat Mark R. Warner relies on a tax increase in his transportation plan.
Mr. Warner, in announcing his plan last week, said he would support efforts by localities that want to put a sales-tax increase to a binding referendum, with the money going to pay for schools, transportation, or a combination of the two. He included $900 million in revenue from a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia as part of his $2.25 billion plan.
That, Republicans say, means Mr. Warner plans to put the full force of the governor's office behind the tax increase.
"My opponent, Mark Warner, has a plan to raise taxes $900 million. The last thing we need to do," Mr. Earley says in the ad. "We've proven there's a better way by cutting taxes, and giving businesses the incentives they need to create jobs."
Mr. Warner, though, says Republicans are distorting his position. He said allowing localities to hold a referendum is not the same as supporting a tax increase. He said he hasn't taken a position on specific referendum proposals.
"We've seen throughout this campaign Mark Earley mischaracterize and distort my positions," Mr. Warner said in a telephone conference call with reporters yesterday. He reiterated his statement that he won't raise taxes as governor, and he said there are other ways to make up the $900 million if the referendum fails to pass.
Tax cuts have been a great weapon for Virginia Republicans in recent years from former Gov. George F. Allen's unsuccessful attempt to cut the income tax to current Gov. James S. Gilmore III's "No car tax" pledge, which carried him to victory in 1997.
Mr. Warner has been careful to avoid giving Republicans ammunition on the tax issue, in particular saying he supports the car-tax cut and would complete it during his term, though not necessarily on schedule next year.
But Republicans now think the sales-tax referendum is a clear distinction on taxes, and they plan a full-court press on the issue. Today they plan a series of news conferences by state lawmakers to call attention to Mr. Warner's plan and accuse him of parsing his words on the issue.
"He's got a very simple choice he either supports a $900 million tax hike or he's got a $900 million hole in his transportation plan. And if he says there's other ways to come up with $900 million, then hasn't he proven the argument that a $900 million tax hike is unnecessary?" said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Mr. Earley says he thinks Northern Virginia's transportation needs can be met as part of a plan for the entire state, and that it can be done without tax increases. But he has also said he will keep an open door to listen to legislators who want a sales-tax referendum, and he has never said he would veto such a bill unlike Mr. Gilmore, who made it clear he would veto such a bill.
The ad began running on a few stations Tuesday, and across the state yesterday.
But the Earley campaign had to pull the first version of the ad yesterday morning after it realized that The Washington Post headline it flashed on the screen as evidence of Mr. Warner's support for taxes had been the subject of a correction. The Post said the headline mischaracterized Mr. Warner's position. Earley campaign staffers said when they realized the headline had been the subject of a correction, they pulled that version and now show a quote from the article in place of the headline.

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