- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

Virginia Republicans yesterday opened fire on Gov. Mark Warner’s tax restructuring plan, mocking it in a speech by Mr. Warner’s predecessor, passing a resolution denouncing it and accusing the Democratic governor of breaching a promise by proposing it.

Republicans from across the state, many of them sporting green “No Tax Hike” stickers, focused on Mr. Warner’s code changes, particularly a 1-cent general sales tax increase, framing it as the dominant issue of the legislative session five weeks away.

Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, speaking to a breakfast crowd at the state Republicans’ annual December retreat in Tysons Corner, quoted Mr. Warner as saying in a 2001 campaign debate that he would not raise taxes if elected.

Then he took a felt-tipped marker, turned to an easel and wrote in foot-tall black letters on a large sheet of white paper “1.0 B.”

“Now if you don’t remember but one thing, remember that: $1 billion,” Mr. Gilmore said, gesturing toward the easel.

“One billion dollars of money coming out of the pockets of the people of this state … for this government. A $1 billion tax increase — the single biggest tax increase in the history of Virginia,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Then he turned and wrote “22%” on the pad, representing the relative growth in the sales tax rate from 4.5 cents for every $1 in sales to 5.5 cents in Mr. Warner’s proposal.

“You know who pays that — a 22 percent increase in the sales tax? Everybody. Every swingin’ person in Virginia,” the former governor said.

Just in using the easel, Mr. Gilmore mocked Mr. Warner. When the governor outlined his tax proposals last month, he used a similar easel, pad and marker to write “65% pay less,” pressing his point that the total state tax burden would decrease for nearly two-thirds of Virginia taxpayers under his plan.

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said he agreed with Mr. Gilmore’s remarks but was less harsh in discussing the tax package.

“What he’s saying is that we need to resist the temptation to spend every penny we have,” Mr. Howell said, “but we want to see the substance of the plan. We’ve asked his office for details. How’s this going to affect jobs in Virginia?”

The administration refused to comment publicly on Mr. Gilmore’s remarks, but Democratic officials seethed over them.

“This governor is cleaning up the Gilmore mess. It was the Gilmore administration that understated the budget deficit two years ago. It was the Gilmore administration that understated the $1 billion cost of the car tax,” said state Democratic Chairman Kerry J. Donley.

“Let’s face it: nobody’s standing in line waiting to use Jim Gilmore’s calculator,” Mr. Donley said.

Since Mr. Gilmore left office two years ago, Mr. Warner and the Republican-dominated General Assembly have struggled to reconcile $6 billion in budget shortfalls and are at least $1 billion short as they begin drafting the state’s new budget.

“That’s how much we’ve had to deal with after four years of Jim Gilmore’s philosophy, which was promise the moon at all costs, and the people of Virginia continue to see the fallout or his irresponsible policies,” said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Laura Bland.

The state Republican Party’s ruling central committee, meeting shortly after Mr. Gilmore’s speech, approved a resolution denouncing the Warner tax plan and calling for its defeat.

State Republican Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin also criticized the tax proposal in a luncheon speech.

“We will not — and must not — miss a single opportunity to point out the fact that Mark Warner has drawn his credibility into serious question by officially breaking his solemn campaign promise not to raise our taxes,” according to a text of Mrs. Griffin’s speech the Associated Press obtained on Friday.

Democrats will not sit idly by, however, as Republicans assail Mr. Warner’s tax proposal.

After the governor submits his 2005-06 budget to the legislature on Dec. 17, he will begin touring the state to promote his tax plan. He is establishing a private foundation to help direct and fund a campaign to gain political support for the proposal. Mr. Donley said he plans to travel statewide to coordinate Democratic efforts behind it.

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