Two challengers in this year's Republican primary are setting themselves apart as "the" anti-tax candidates in their races.
George Fitch, the mayor of Warrenton who is mounting a maverick campaign against party-favorite Jerry Kilgore for the GOP nomination for governor, issued a news release on April 5 stating that "he will veto any tax increases enacted by the Virginia General Assembly."
According to the news release distributed by his campaign:
In comments to the media at a rally sponsored by the Fairfax Taxpayers Alliance, Fitch said he has signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” written by Americans for Tax Reform and questioned why his Republican opponent, Jerry Kilgore, hasn’t also signed the pledge "to oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes."
"This is a perfect example of how Jerry Kilgore hasn’t been honest with voters on the issue of taxes. He claims he is for tax relief, but he sat silent while the General Assembly was socking Virginia’s taxpayers with the largest tax increase in history; his proposal for real estate tax relief is a sham; and he won’t sign a pledge to oppose new tax increases on Virginia taxpayers," Fitch said.
Noting his success in cutting Warrenton's real estate taxes by 77 percent during his tenure as the town's mayor, Fitch promised to finish the car tax cut that began during the Gilmore Administration and to reduce state spending by as much as $2.5 billion. "There’s an enormous amount of waste in the Virginia budget," Fitch said.
Taking a shot at his opponent, Fitch suggested that Kilgore will be a wimp when it comes to tax increases if he is elected governor:
"Politicians, like Jerry Kilgore, have been dancing around on the issue of taxes for far too long, promising the voters one thing but doing something else. No wonder Jerry Kilgore told The Washington Post on [February] 28th: 'I’m more like Mark Warner than Tim Kaine will ever be.'"
"Let’s cut to the chase. If Virginians want a Governor who will bring some fiscal common sense to Virginia state government so that we can reduce taxes, eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending then they shouldn’t have voted for Mark Warner and they shouldn’t vote for Jerry Kilgore. I’m the only candidate with a track record of really cutting taxes and reducing spending," Fitch said.
In the meantime, Chris Oprison is challenging incumbent Delegate Joe May, who recently abandoned a race for lieutenant governor, in the 33rd district in Leesburg and vicinity (Clarke and Loudoun counties). In a March 31 news release, Oprison revealed his plan "to combat skyrocketing property tax increases on Virginia homeowners."
Oprison bases his plan on that popularized by VOTORS (Virginians Over-Taxed On Residences). As explained by Oprison, this plan would have three major facets:
(1) rollback recent hikes in the property assessment values and reset them to the level on record two years prior to passage of the amendment;
(2) impose a prospective 2% limit on the increase in property value assessments annually from the reset value until the property is sold, at which time the property value is adjusted to the selling price;
(3) impose a 1% cap on property tax rates.
Oprison's news release quotes VOTORS chairman Al Aitken expressing his appreciation for the candidate's open support for his organization's position:
"[It] is refreshing to see a true fiscal conservative like Chris understanding what those in government for years have been unable or unwilling to acknowledge. In addition to a revenue component to budget issues, there is also a spending component that must be addressed and brought into check. I firmly believe we need more fresh and ambitious young leaders like Chris at the helm who understand these issues and are not afraid to address them head on."
Both VOTORS and Oprison face an uphill battle in attempting to pass such an ambitious program of property-tax reform. There are a lot of interests opposed to it -- not least the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.
In reaction to much milder proposals from gubernatorial candidates Kilgore and Tim Kaine, R. Michael Amyx, executive director of the Virginia Municipal League told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "A proposal that cuts or restricts the property tax will give local government official real pause." He quoted a scary report from his organization's Texas counterpart, which said in part:
Appraisal caps and other property tax limits have created substantial problems in providing adequate revenues in states where they have been implemented, resulting in major disparities among taxpayers, increases in other taxes and significant increases in state transfers to local government.
In the meantime, the Roanoke Times reported that the Kilgore and Kaine proposals, as weak as they are,
have been greeted with apprehension by some city and county government officials, who are wary of the state government tampering with the taxing authority of localities. "My number-one concern is that the statewide candidates are running on promises of lowering local taxes," said Jim Campbell, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties.
Let's face it, however: It takes bold proposals like those promoted by Fitch and Oprison (and VOTORS) to make palatable the mild tax reform proposals of conventional politicians like Kaine and Kilgore. Anything that gets more radical ideas into the public debate is worthwhile.