- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said yesterday elected officials should quit using phrases such as “user fees” and “revenue enhancements” and instead call them what they are — taxes.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said talking honestly to taxpayers and assuming they can understand complex financial scenarios is a winning bet.

“You’ve got to be straight with the people,” Mr. Warner told a gathering of about 120 at a Democratic Leadership Council luncheon in Northwest. “No one likes talking about taxes … but skip the rhetoric.The public will get it.”

However, Mr. Warner’s critics say he has not been “straight” with the people. Antitax groups have mounted a campaign filled with clips of candidate ads and debates in which Mr. Warner said he would not raise taxes.

Mr. Warner has said that the outgoing administration of his predecessor, former Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III, projected an $800 million shortfall that ultimately turned out to be $6 billion and that fiscal realities changed. He called Mr. Gilmore’s fiscal policies “misguided.”

Mr. Warner also has criticized Mr. Gilmore’s “No Car Tax” election pledge, saying it skimped on the details for implementing the reality of that promise. Mr. Gilmore was elected to office in November 1997 on the pledge to eliminate 100 percent of the car tax by 2002. However, the popular car-tax-relief program has been frozen at 70 percent since 2001, when the programturned out to be too costly.

Throughout his talk yesterday, Mr. Warner referred to his experience persuading the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year to adopt a $1.38 billion tax-increase plan that also cuts some taxes.

Mr. Warner said his 45-minute Power Point presentation on the budget and taxes helped voters from the rural areas to Northern Virginia understand the state’s fiscal problems and rally behind his tax-reform plan.

He said politicians tend to underestimate the public. He used, as an example, a town hall meeting he held in Independence, a town in Southwest Virginia, where 175 persons showed up to hear him talk about the budget and tax reform. The town’s population is less than 1,000.

Mr. Warner said politicians planning to raise taxes must prove to the public that they will be good stewards of tax dollars.

“Show the taxpayer you will try to squeeze every dollar before you ask them to pay more,” he said.

During his term, Mr. Warner has cut $6 billion in spending and slashed 5,000 government jobs to balance the budget.

The General Assembly approved the tax plan only after a group of Republicans broke with their antitax leadership to partner with Democrats in an effort to end a budget stalemate that led to a 115-day-long legislative session.

Mr. Warner said Democrats will have to forge more bipartisan coalitions to prosper nationally.

“I believe this is an indication of what can play out in other states and at the national level,” he said. “If it can happen in Virginia against the odds we confronted, I think it can happen anywhere.”

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