Democrat Tim Kaine kicked-off his campaign to be VirginiaÕs next governor with a whirlwind tour of Northern Virginia, promising at each stop that he would work to ease the burden of skyrocketing residential property taxes.
"I cut homeowner taxes as the mayor of Richmond and I'll fight to cut homeowner taxes as your next governor," he told supporters Wednesday in Herndon. "And we'll do it in a fiscally responsible way that schools win, local governments win, and most importantly, Virginia families win."
Kaine, who has served as Virginia's lieutenant governor for the last three years, said he understands that homeowners Ñ particularly in Northern Virginia Ñ are struggling to pay property taxes after five straight years of double-digit assessment increases.
He proposed enacting a state constitutional amendment to allow local governments to exempt 20 percent of a home's value from property taxes.
To make up for the lost revenue, the state would increase the amount of education funding it sends to local jurisdictions. The money would come from shifting the tax burden away from residential property owners onto the shoulders of commercial and industrial property owners. Currently, residential and commercial property must be taxed at the same rate on full value.
Were Kaine's plan fully enacted, it could save the typical Northern Virginia homeowner an estimated $800 per year.
"We all appreciate when the value of homes and farms legitimately increases," he said. "But too many Virginians are feeling squeezed by out-of-control homeowner's tax rate hikes."
TIM MURTAUGH, spokesman for Jerry Kilgore, the likely Republican gubernatorial nominee and former attorney general, said Kaine's tax relief promises for homeowners are hollow because they are optional for local governments.
Murtaugh dismissed Kaine's tax relief proposal as a bundle of promises that canÕt be fulfilled designed to tell Northern Virginia voters whatever they want to hear.
"He might as well put in there that he promises to like puppies too," he said.
Kilgore began his campaign tour of Virginia on Monday, stopping in Arlington on Tuesday morning to hold a rally alongside U.S. Sen. John Warner (R) and former governor Jim Gilmore (R).
CAMPAIGNING alongside Kaine last week were Gov. Mark Warner (D) and Kaine's father-in-law, former governor Linwood Holton.
Holton, who was elected in 1969 as Virginia's first Republican governor of the 20th Century, said Kaine is the kind of politician willing to reach across the aisle and compromise for the good of the commonwealth.
"Just forget about the party," Holton said. "Vote for the person who you think can get the job done."
Kaine allied himself with Mark Warner, pointing to their efforts last spring to convince legislators from both parties to implement a $1.6 billion sales tax increase for education and human services funding.
"Tim Kaine is the only candidate that has the experience, the wisdom, the courage and the commitment to get the job done," Warner said.
Del. Ken Plum (D-36) likened Kaine's personality to that of the popular governor, saying he thinks Virginians will be impressed with his finesse and ability to find consensus.
"Like Warner, he's got smartness and cordiality," Plum said. "He gets along with people."
Kaine said his experience as Richmond's mayor taught him the importance of providing sufficient services directly to the citizens Ñ everything from reducing the city's crime rate to improving its school system.
"I'm from local government," he said, addressing a gathering of Fairfax County local elected officials. "I know what challenges you face."
Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) called Kaine a "champion of local government" and welcomed the proposed homeowner tax relief plan.
"Northern Virginia needs a friend in Richmond in the governor's mansion," he said.