Former Gov Jim Gilmore was criticized a few years ago by Democrats and some Republicans for not disclosing the state’s finances while insisting that his phase-out of the car tax continue. Because the car tax phase-out was contingent upon economic growth, lawmakers were often frustrated as they headed into the legislative session with little information from the governor regarding the commonwealth’s financial situation.
If Gilmore can be criticized for this lack of communication with his legislature and the taxpayers of Virginia, then the people have a similar gripe with Gov. Mark Warner and his reluctance to detail his plans to reform the tax code. Warner wants to wait until after Election Day.
With all 140 seats of the General Assembly up for grabs on Nov. 4, Warner says every detail of his tax reform plan will be used as political fodder by the GOP during legislative campaigns.
The fact that Warner has refused to lay out a detailed plan for revising the state’s tax code has already allowed Republicans to assume he has a tax increase up his sleeve and some in the GOP are campaigning on that conclusion.
The problem is that Virginia has not had a major revision in its tax code since the 1920s when the commonwealth depended on a rural/ farm economy. Now Warner says he has ideas to improve Virginia’s system of taxation, but doesn’t want to give us any specifics until Nov. 5, saying there is plenty of time to sort through the details before the legislature goes into session.
Let’s get this straight. Our tax code has gone more than 80 years without a major overhaul and the governor believes he can persuade Virginians and their legislators on his plan during the two months between Election Day and the opening day of the 2004 General Assembly.
Warner assumed the governorship in 2002 with his Democratic Party out of power in the House and Senate. He also inherited a sour economy that resulted in a $6 billion shortfall.
With the deck stacked against him in this fashion, Virginians of every political persuasion would have respected Warner’s ambitions on tax reform had he been more forthcoming and unveiled his plans this summer. Now, we’re left to speculate instead of debate.
Tax reform is supposed to be Warner’s legacy. Now that he’s decided to wait until he is truly a lame duck before spelling out these plans, there is a possibility that the failure of tax reform could be his legacy indeed.