- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Virginians deserve the chance to approve or vote down the tax increases being proposed in Richmond.

“Voters are not going to stand for an 8- to 10-cent tax on each gallon of gasoline,” said Mr. Kilgore, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for the 2005 gubernatorial race. His comments came during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mr. Kilgore, who said he has been traveling and making phone calls to opinion leaders across the state in his efforts to build support for a referendum, brushed off criticism from Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine, who said the initiative simply allows politicians to hand off tough choices to the voters.

Mr. Kaine, who is the leading candidate to become Mr. Kilgore’s Democratic opponent, last week likened asking Virginians to decide the state’s budget standoff to Pontius Pilate’s decision to let an “angry mob” decide Jesus’ fate.

Mr. Kilgore favors a June 8 referendum on the competing House and Senate budget proposals. He said he has more confidence in the voters.

“I think taxpayers ought to be offended by the lieutenant’s rhetoric comparing them to an angry mob,” Mr. Kilgore said. “We’ve asked the public to make hard choices again and again going back to 1987 when we asked for their decision on the lottery.”

The Republican-controlled House last week passed a two-year, $58 billion budget that keeps funding for most government services at the same level as last year.

But the Senate, also controlled by Republicans, has approved a more ambitious spending plan, a two-year $61.5 billion budget that raises the gasoline, sales and cigarette taxes. That budget also calls for more transportation and education spending.

Mr. Kilgore, 42, said the budget impasse is overshadowing other issues in Richmond, and the philosophical disagreement is splitting the Republican Party on a handful of Senate leaders.

“The Republican Party is still a party of limited government and low taxes,” he said. “That’s one of the founding principles of the party. We can’t throw that out or we might as well not have a Republican Party. We’ll just be Democrat-light.”

Mr. Kilgore, who called himself a “fiscal conservative and a social conservative,” also talked about cultural and legal issues facing Virginia, including illegal immigration and the prospects of homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. Kilgore said his office is hoping that Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, will sign legislation that would allow local law-enforcement officials to detain illegal immigrants for 72 hours.

“There is a question of whether you can detain them once you stop a car or stop them for doing something illegal,” Mr. Kilgore said. “Local law enforcement up to this point didn’t feel like they had the authority.

“If you come here illegally then you should not be getting the benefits of our society, whether that’s getting a driver’s license or in-state tuition,” he said.

The attorney general also said his office would oppose any efforts by localities in Virginia to follow San Francisco by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I don’t see a movement on the issue in Virginia,” Mr. Kilgore said.

“The public policy in Virginia is settled and we’re not going to get into these arenas.”

Mr. Kilgore, who has accepted contributions from those who favor bringing a Major League Baseball team to Northern Virginia, said he favors the idea. But he said he would want a local sports authority to have revenue-generating powers so that the baseball stadium could pay for itself.

Mr. Kilgore also said that his office is appealing last month’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams striking down Virginia’s partial-birth abortion ban.

He also said he continues to favor the death penalty, a position he said was “solidified” among state residents after the arrests and convictions of the D.C. area snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

Mr. Kilgore declined to officially declare an intention to seek the governorship, but said he continues to consider the idea.

“It’s not a secret that I have an interest,” he said.

Mr. Kilgore’s campaign fund, Virginians for Jerry Kilgore, has raised about $2.5 million. Mr. Kilgore estimates that he would need at least $15 million to finance a gubernatorial bid.

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