- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner today will present a budget coupled with his tax-reform plan that key Republican lawmakers are already calling the biggest tax increase in the state’s history.

Mr. Warner said on WTOP Radio yesterday his budget will outline $100 million in state spending cuts and stressed he would like to maintain Virginia’s AAA bond rating while making sure education has enough funding.

“There’s been some partisan sniping, but nobody has yet stepped up and said, ‘Here, governor, here’s our six-year plan,’” Mr. Warner said during the monthly “Ask the Governor” program.

The Democratic governor is promoting his plan with a new tax calculator that will allow Virginians to calculate the effects the tax plan will have on their households. The calculator can be found at https://taxreform.governor.virginia.gov.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, who called in to WTOP yesterday, criticized Mr. Warner’s plan, saying the poor won’t get a break.

Mr. Warner asked Mr. Marshall to “plug in” his own tax numbers to see how the plan would affect his family. Mr. Marshall told The Washington Times last night he hadn’t had time to use the calculator, but questioned its value for the 1 million Virginia residents who don’t have computers.

“Those are the people who will be hit the hardest. They won’t be able to see how much more they are paying,” Mr. Marshall said.

Using the online calculator, residents can estimate whether their bottom line will go up or down under Mr. Warner’s “Commonwealth of Opportunity” budget and tax-reform plan, which calls for a number of changes in the state’s tax structure.

Mr. Warner said on WTOP that 4,700 people had already tried the calculator since its debut Monday.

Some residents are cheering the calculator and the governor’s plan.

“If his plan goes through I’ll be happy to save the extra money,” said Ronald Kozlowski, a retired Henrico County resident who will save $286 under the governor’s plan.

Carolyn Gregory-Adams, a married Sussex County mother of one child, would be saving $127 under the plan. “It ended up saving me quite a bit. It was very good,” she said.

However, a married couple that smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, has two children, drives two cars, and earns $150,000 a year will actually be paying $195 more under the Warner plan, according to the calculator.

“We know that 65 percent of Virginia households will pay less under this tax reform plan. But this online calculator allows individuals and families to see for themselves,” Mr. Warner has said in a statement. “So I ask critics of this plan, and those who are inclined to support it, to see for themselves by going online and using the online calculator.”

Those critics also scoffed at the online calculator.

“Virginians will be reluctant to rely on Mark Warner’s magic calculator considering the fact he promised families he would never raise their taxes in the first place. This calculator does not take into consideration the fact his massive sales tax increase will impact the working poor and elderly the hardest,” said Shawn Smith, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia.

Last week, Mr. Warner said the critics’ claims are false.

The Warner plan calls for increasing the 2 cents-a-pack cigarette tax, the nation’s lowest, to 25 cents; and raising the 4.5 percent sales tax to 5.5 percent, which would produce about $1 billion in revenue each year. The plan would also increase the income tax to 6.25 percent from 5.7 percent for residents whose taxable income is more than $100,000 a year.

Mr. Warner said his plan, which he estimates would net about $600 million in revenue, would reduce taxes for 65 percent of Virginians as it phases out the car tax and decreases the 4 percent grocery-sales tax to 2.5 percent by 2005.

“Clearly people who are heavy smokers will pay more and people at the very top end of the income level will pay more,” Mr. Warner said on WTOP yesterday.

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and House Speaker William J. Howell, both Republicans, also have attacked Mr. Warner’s plan.

Mr. Howell and Mr. Kilgore said they hired James C. Miller III, former Reagan administration budget director and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate, to conduct an economic effect study of Mr. Warner’s plan.

“The 65 percent sound-bite claim not only ignores the plan’s sharp tax increase for the one in five Virginians who smoke, as well as the effect of other plan components,” Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Howell said in written statement.

Mr. Howell said he and Mr. Kilgore will bear the expense of the study that will be conducted by Mr. Miller’s company, the CapAnalysis Group LLC, which is based in the District.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, also criticized Mr. Warner’s plan, saying it could harm job creation and stunt an economic recovery in Virginia.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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