Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday denounced proposed tax increases, saying Gov. Mark Warner and some Republican senators tricked voters in pursuit of their tax-raising plans.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, blamed the state’s budget problems on the Democratic governor and state senators, including Sen. John H. Chichester, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“The public … thought they had an opportunity to send people to the legislature and to the governor’s mansion based on certain principles and positions and then they didn’t get what they voted for,” Mr. Gilmore said at his law office in the District.

Mr. Gilmore, 54, said the governor, Mr. Chichester and other pro-tax senators “hid their plans” and “deliberately misrepresented” themselves when they promised in their election campaigns to cut taxes.

All 40 Senate seats are up for election in November.

“The Senate and the governor are trying to play chicken with the House. This is very risky to the state,” Mr. Gilmore said. If there is no budget, he said, “it will absolutely be the Senate and the governor’s responsibility.”

Mr. Gilmore also said he wouldn’t rule out another run for governor.

“I might consider running again at some point,” said Mr. Gilmore, whose four-year term ended when Mr. Warner took office in 2002. Under Virginia law, governors cannot serve consecutive terms.

“I haven’t made any plan to do so,” he said, noting his focus now is on his corporate and technology law practice, and on his role as chairman of the Federal Homeland Security team.

In Richmond, House Republican leaders on Tuesday issued an ultimatum to Mr. Warner and the Senate to hold a voter referendum on tax increases, in hopes that the governor and the Senate would back off their tax increase plans.

Senate and House budget negotiators likely will meet today to start working on a compromise between their budgets, which are about $3.5 billion apart.

They have until midnight Tuesday to complete the process. The General Assembly adjourns March 13.

Mr. Gilmore said yesterday a referendum on taxes would allow the voters to decide whether they want to pay the government more.

The former governor said Virginians “have spoken loud and clear, over and over and over again” that they don’t want to pay higher taxes.

“The tradition in Virginia is that governors tell people what they’re going to do, do what they say they are going to do and they don’t raise taxes,” Mr. Gilmore said. “We ought to be living within our means.”

Mr. Gilmore thinks more can be cut from government spending, and he said he opposes the current tax increase proposals, including the House plan that would raise a projected $520 million in revenue by eliminating tax exemptions for business.

Mr. Gilmore said his experience in the governor’s mansion was positive. He called the governor’s position “the best job in America outside of the presidency.”

He said his proudest accomplishments were giving Virginians a car tax refund, cutting tuition rates and making sure state lottery money went toward education funding.

He said he also restored the governor’s mansion, created many jobs during the booming economic period of his term and created a secretary of technology position.

Republicans doubt a 2005 Gilmore run because it is presumed Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore will be the party’s gubernatorial nominee.

Democrats, who are expected to nominate Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for the state’s top position, said a Gilmore run would be “a blessing” because they blame many of the state’s fiscal problems on him.

Mr. Kilgore, who is against the tax increase proposals, has not officially announced that he is running for governor, but a political action committee collected about $2.5 million for Mr. Kilgore by Dec. 31.

Mr. Kaine has said he is running for governor in 2005. His political action committees collected about $2.2 million by the end of last year.

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