- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who made ending the car tax the heart of his 1997 campaign, joined former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore on the campaign trail in Arlington yesterday.

Mr. Gilmore, who joined Mr. Kilgore’s statewide tour, praised Mr. Kilgore’s plan for capping real estate assessments, saying the matter could become the new car-tax issue.

“It does have legs,” Mr. Gilmore said at a rally at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington. “People are very concerned about this issue. They watch their real estate assessments go up dramatically, and they have some sense of suspicion that maybe this is just an effort to get more money out of them.”

Mr. Kilgore, who on Monday officially kicked off his campaign with an airplane tour of Virginia, has proposed a plan that would limit the growth of real estate assessments to no more than 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or improved.

The issue resonates in many parts of the state, particularly in Northern Virginia, where assessments have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Let’s be honest with our citizens,” Mr. Kilgore told supporters at the rally in Arlington. “The assessments have been getting out of hand.”

Mr. Kilgore’s likely opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, last week proposed a plan that would allow local governments to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of homes and small farms. Mr. Kaine’s plan also would allow homeowners to remodel or add on to their homes without paying taxes on the improvements for 15 years.

Kaine campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said yesterday local officials would be forced to raise tax rates under the Kilgore plan. She said Mr. Kaine’s plan to fully fund education would allow local governments the freedom to offer tax relief.

“Tim Kaine’s plan to give homeowners tax relief is the only plan that gives taxpayers a real tax cut,” she said. “They will have no choice but to raise the tax rate.”

Under Mr. Kaine’s plan, a Fairfax County resident with a house assessed at $400,000 last year would save $920 under the exemption.

Mr. Kilgore’s campaign did not release any examples of how much money Virginians would save under the proposed cap.

In his stump speech in Virginia Beach yesterday, Mr. Kilgore criticized Mr. Kaine’s proposal.

“Under my plan, tax relief is not an option left to local officials, it is my promise from me to you,” he told supporters, who waved the campaign’s orange-and-blue signs at the Holiday Inn Executive Center Hotel in Virginia Beach.

Mr. Kilgore’s promise to fully phase out the car tax also drew loud cheers and applause at each campaign stop over the last two days. Mr. Kaine has said he supports the full phase out of the car tax if it can be done in a fiscally responsible manner.

At a rally in Richmond last night, Mr. Gilmore praised Mr. Kilgore’s pledge to phase out the car tax.

“When Jerry says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it,” Mr. Gilmore told the nearly 1,000 supporters who packed the historic Tredegar Iron Works, where cannons and ammunition were produced during the Civil War.

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. Efforts to lift the cap did not succeed in the legislature this year.

Mr. Kilgore’s tax-relief proposals drew plaudits from anti-tax advocates.

“We like what he is saying,” said James Parmelee, an anti-tax advocate from Northern Virginia who was in Arlington yesterday.

Mr. Kilgore also said if elected he would subject any tax-increase proposals to a voter referendum.

Last year, Mr. Kilgore, who opposed a $1.38 billion tax increase, wanted voters to decide on the proposed increases. Mr. Kaine, who supported the tax increases, opposed subjecting the measure to a voter referendum. The legislature ultimately approved the tax package, which also cut some taxes.

Mr. Kilgore is the likely Republican nominee for governor. He faces Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in the June primary. Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, is running as an independent.

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