- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates yesterday approved a bill that would unfreeze the state’s popular car-tax relief program and finally eliminate the levy by 2012.

The delegates voted 73-21 to pass the measure, which is sponsored by several Northern Virginia delegates who say the car tax is unfair to the region.

“The better majority of us in both bodies, and the governor, promised to phase out the car tax,” said Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors. “It’s no wonder that so many of our citizens are disappointed with our government at all levels, because all too often, people say one thing with election and do another when locked into a two- or a four-year term. This is a chance to earn back some of that trust, to do what we said we would do and make good on our promise.”

The bill lifts the $950 million cap placed on the car-tax relief program last year and institutes a schedule that would give motorists an additional 5 percent of tax relief annually through 2012.

Twenty-five delegates who voted in favor of the cap during last year’s extended and bitter session voted to lift the cap yesterday.

Delegate William H. Fralin Jr., Roanoke Republican, who was one of those who switched their votes, called the latest measure “fiscally responsible.”

“The terrific growth that our commonwealth has experienced makes it important to recognize the hard work of our fellow citizens and indeed allows and indeed requires that we give significant tax relief this year,” Mr. Fralin said.

The bill now faces a significant hurdle in the Senate Finance Committee, where it is likely to be rejected.

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall said he encouraged his Democratic colleagues to vote in favor of the measure since he considered it “all politics” and “demagoguery.”

“I suggested that if it helps you to vote for it, or if it may potentially hurt you to vote against it, vote for it,” the Richmond Democrat said. “This is all politics. They know it is going to be killed in the Senate.”

Mr. Hall, who voted in favor of the car-tax bill yesterday, said Republicans need to come up with a way to pay for the elimination of the tax. “Everybody wants to get rid of it,” he said.

Gov. Mark Warner has said the measure puts the state’s core services at risk and seems like election-year posturing. Mr. Warner, a Democrat, proposed a tax package last year that would have eliminated the car tax by 2008. The House rejected his plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester last year proposed a tax package that would have fully eliminated the car tax immediately. His proposal included an income-tax increase. The House also rejected his plan.

The Stafford Republican has said the House proposal is meant only for political brochures, since all 100 delegates are up for re-election in November.

When the House announced its plan, Mr. Chichester said 70 percent relief is better than none.

“To keep it at 70 percent is far more than it was 10 years ago, and keeping it at 70 percent still maintains our core obligations,” he said. “Everybody comes out a winner.”

The car-tax relief program allows motorists to pay reduced car-tax bills, with the state picking up a percentage of the bill and the motorist paying the rest to their local government. Since 2002, the amount the state pays has been frozen at 70 percent so motorists pay 30 percent.

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

Under the bill, the reimbursement rate would increase by 5 percent each year starting in 2007, said Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican who is the bill’s main sponsor.

Delegates David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, and Michele B. McQuigg, Occoquan Republican, also were among those who sponsored the bill.

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