- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

RICHMOND — Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III began a long-term comeback march yesterday, accusing his Democratic successor of “deceit” and “extremism” to win a tax-increase fight and winning a lusty ovation at the Republican State Convention.

Mr. Gilmore and next year’s presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, savaged Gov. Mark Warner and the likely 2005 Democratic nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a month after the legislature, with a divided Republican majority, passed a $60 billion two-year budget based on $1.4 billion in new taxes.

In his most scathing attack on Mr. Warner yet, Mr. Gilmore said the governor deceived voters last fall by refusing to disclose his plans to raise taxes until after legislative elections in which Democrats gained three seats.

Then, Mr. Gilmore added, Mr. Warner used panic to split the GOP by making dire predictions about Virginia’s finances, knowing that a surging economy would leave the state with a year-end budget surplus.

“He misled the business community. He misled people in the General Assembly. And now, what have we found out? After the General Assembly had … gone home with their heads hanging low, we now find that there’s a $300 million surplus,” Mr. Gilmore said.

“What deception. What deceit,” said the former governor, whose political action committee has resumed its fund-raising activities. “What did the governor know and when did he know it?”

Mr. Kilgore, while more restrained, had the same thread in his earlier speech, exhorting the party’s core conservatives to action for President Bush this fall and for him the year after.

“If you think Mark Warner enjoys reaching into your pockets, just imagine how tax-happy a Governor Tim Kaine, who wanted even more taxes, would be,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Mr. Warner departed Friday on a trade mission to Asia and was not available for comment. His deputy press secretary, Kevin Hall, said Mr. Gilmore’s ineptitude at handling the state’s fiscal affairs as governor was clear.

“He underestimated the true cost of the car-tax repeal by a factor of two and lowballed the real size of Virginia’s shortfall by a factor of five,” Mr. Hall said.

With a booming economy yielding record budget surpluses in 1998, Mr. Gilmore pushed the rollback of the hated tax on personal cars and pickup trucks — his signature public policy issue — through a legislature then run by Democrats.

During his 1997 campaign, he had projected that the cut would cost the state about $600 million. He later revised the figure to about $1 billion. If fully phased out now, however, the cost would be about $1.4 billion.

The state also has had to reconcile budget shortfalls totaling $6 billion since Mr. Gilmore left office in 2002.

Mr. Gilmore’s unyielding stand against stalling his car-tax phaseout in 2001 was blamed for the bitter Republican split that year and Mr. Warner’s election victory.

M. Boyd Marcus, Mr. Gilmore’s closest adviser and his chief of staff as governor, said the immediate goal of Mr. Gilmore’s speech was not to set up another campaign, but to provide the party with a clear, antitax rallying point. During this year’s legislative session, 17 House Republicans broke with the GOP’s official antitax position and sided with 35 House Democrats to pass the tax increase.

“He’s made it clear that he is the leader in this party, and there will be future public service for him,” Mr. Marcus said.

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