- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

RICHMOND — House lawmakers yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would jump-start the state’s car-tax relief program and eliminate car-tax bills for motorists by 2012.

Lawmakers passed the bill, sponsored by several Northern Virginia delegates, on a voice vote and are expected to give it final approval tomorrow.

“We have made a promise to the people of this commonwealth,” said Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican. “I hope that we will keep it.”

Senators and Gov. Mark Warner oppose the measure, however.

Under the plan, the reimbursement rate would increase by 5 percent each year starting in 2007. The relief program has been frozen at 70 percent since 2002, so motorists are still paying 30 percent of their dreaded car-tax bills.

Because the program increases in cost each year as more people buy more expensive cars, lawmakers last year imposed a $950 million cap, ensuring bills will rise in coming years.

The bill would lift the cap, institute a new schedule for giving motorists additional tax relief and eliminate the tax by 2012.

Mr. Lingamfelter said the bill will return the tax to a “predictable, realistic and sustainable path.”

House Republicans, many of whom have campaigned on the “No Car Tax” pledge since 1997, said they are obligated to taxpayers to finally end the tax.

“I hope that we will try to stand within the promise that was made, that many of us ran on,” said Delegate John “Jack” Reid, Henrico Republican.

The bill is sponsored by Northern Virginia Republican Delegates David B. Albo, Fairfax; Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William; and Michele B. McQuigg of Occoquan, in addition to Mr. Lingamfelter and lawmakers from other parts of the state.

Mr. Albo said Northern Virginia was hit twice last year — with the $1.38 billion increase in the sales, cigarette and real estate taxes and with the cap on the car-tax relief program.

“The car tax was the only decent thing we had, and the cap was like rubbing salt in the wound,” he said. “First, they kick you in the knees so you’re crippled, then when you are down, they kick you in the head. We need to get this back on track because we shouldn’t go back on our promises.”

Mr. Albo responded to criticism of election-year posturing by saying, “You get re-elected by doing a good job. I think it will help me get re-elected.”

During the brief floor debate yesterday, Delegate J. Chapman Petersen presented a new plan that would have changed the structure of the relief program based on automobile value. However, the House rejected his plan 83 to 11.

Mr. Petersen said he didn’t think Mr. Lingamfelter’s plan was achievable.

“It simply represents another promise we’re making to the taxpayers that we will not be able to fulfill,” said Mr. Petersen, a Fairfax City Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor.

After Mr. Petersen’s change was rejected, Democrats tried a second time to change the bill, but Republicans used a procedural move to cut off the debate and prevent the opposing party from introducing its change.

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall said he was frustrated the Republicans didn’t allow the second change to be heard.

Mr. Hall said the proposal was on the desk of House Speaker William J. Howell and that he suspected Mr. Howell ignored it.

“They know and I know this whole thing is politics,” said Mr. Hall, Richmond Democrat. “They are playing to their base.”

When Mr. Warner, a Democrat, first learned of the plan, he said it would put the state’s basic commitments to education and health care “at risk.”

Mr. Lingamfelter said the plan would hurt none of those commitments.

The car-tax relief program is one of the largest expenses in the budget, behind only education and health care.

Mr. Warner and the Senate had plans last year that would have fully phased out the tax. The plans, funded by an income-tax increase, were each rejected by the House.

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