Gilmore & Warner: Two guvs talk relief


If anybody could judge the merits of the dueling homeowner tax-relief proposals offered up by Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore, it should be former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore and his successor, Mark Warner.

Gilmore, after all, laid the intellectual foundation for the tax-relief plans with his call in the 1997 gubernatorial campaign for phase-out of the car tax. Warner, not to be outdone, has led efforts at the state level to reform the way state government funds its far-flung activities.

And the winner is...

Well, both think the plans would be hard to sell politically to the General Assembly, which would have to agree to a Constitutional Amendment to enact either proposal.

And, not surprisingly, Gilmore and Warner disagree on the merits of the suggestions offered by the candidates. Kaine, the presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee, has laid out a package that would give localities power to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of owner-occupied homes and farms from taxation, while Kilgore, frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, tackles rising property assessments from a different angle, capping assessment increases for homeowners at 5 percent per year unless the property has been sold or improved.

"It's interesting that the lieutenant governor and the attorney general have both put forward proposals. What the public is going to have to do is decide who's more credible as far as being able to see their proposal through. Is it somebody with a proven track record of supporting tax relief for Virginia citizens, or is it somebody who was a driving force behind the biggest tax increase in Virginia history and only came around to the side of offering tax relief when he got a look at his poll numbers?" said Gilmore, a Republican who has endorsed Kilgore for governor.

Gilmore says he thinks localities will "fiercely resist" Kaine's idea. "Localities didn't want to go along with the car-tax cut because they wanted to be able to hold onto every last penny they could. So his suggestion to make this voluntary won't be effective because localities are not going to be interested in going this route on a voluntary basis," Gilmore says.

Warner, for his part, views the voluntary aspect of Kaine's proposal as its strongest selling point.

"Lt. Gov. Kaine's is more responsible because it provides local governments with an option. That's just the more responsible approach," says Warner.

"I've been thinking about this for some time," Warner says. "What's happening on property taxes, on homeowner taxes, is not that counties and cities are raising their tax rates. It just mirrors the increase in property values.

Gilmore said Kilgore's assessment cap will give property taxpayers the predictability that Warner wants.

"The Kilgore piece mandates that across the board there will be a cap of 5 percent per year that assessment values can increase. There's nothing voluntary to that, and as a result, voters will know what they're getting. They can't get that same assurance from the Kaine plan," Gilmore says.

Governor Mark R. Warner

Former Governor Jim Gilmore


[The Gilmore picture did not run in our print edition; it's provided here as a web bonus.–editor.]