Standing alongside U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) at an Arlington hotel last week, Republican Jerry Kilgore officially announced his candidacy for governor with his own proposal to rein in runaway property tax increases.
Kilgore, who resigned as attorney general in January, said that if he is elected on Nov. 8 he will cap local residential real estate tax increases at 5 percent per year.
"When it comes to real estate taxes, local governments need to be honest with the citizens and not levy back-door tax increases by sharply increasing tax assessments," he said. "Runaway real estate tax assessments are forcing some Virginians to lose their homes."
Proposing what he called an "Honest Government Bill of Rights," Kilgore said he would also work to amend Virginia's constitution to require a referendum before any gas, sales or income tax increase.
"My opponent says we cannot trust the people of Virginia with these decisions about their future," Kilgore said. "I say we can trust them, and in a Kilgore administration we will trust the people."
Kilgore's "Honest Government" plan would also create a watchdog commission for the state government that would identify waste and make recommendations for reform.
KILGORE'S MAIN RIVAL in the race is Democrat Tim Kaine, the current lieutenant governor. Kaine kicked off his bid for the governor's mansion two weeks ago with his own plan to provide homeowner's tax relief.
Kaine's plan would authorize local governments to exempt up to 20 percent of a home's assessed value. To make up for the lost revenue, localities would shift the tax burden onto the commercial and industrial sector and the state would increase education funding.
Delacey Skinner, Kaine's spokeswoman, said Kilgore's plan demonstrates a lack of understanding about how local property taxes work. By capping annual assessment increases, it will only cause localities to raise the property tax rate or cut into vital services, she said.
"I'm not sure Jerry Kilgore even knows the difference between an assessment and a tax rate."
Skinner said Kilgore's tax cut ideas will likely lead to reductions in education and transportation funding.
"He's really forcing local government to see a cut in their revenue side," she said.
But Gilmore, praising Kilgore's pledges to cut property taxes and eliminate the car tax, said the choice is clear this November when it comes to voting for lower taxes.
"Democrats have a zero track record of cutting taxes," he said. "We are the ones that stand for the pocketbook of business people in the commonwealth."
WHILE PROPERTY TAXES are emerging as the marquee issue of the 2005 gubernatorial race, Kilgore's supporters are trumpeting his background as a prosecutor and attorney general as evidence that he can make Virginia safer from gangs, terrorists and illegal drugs.
"You must have people in the governor's mansion who are committed to protecting the United States," Gilmore said.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), who created a regional anti-gang task force and secured federal funding to combat gangs nation-wide, said Kilgore would work to eliminate the violent street gangs that have recently flourished in Northern Virginia and rural areas across the state.
"There are serious, violent gangs in this region," Wolf said. "Jerry Kilgore is committed to eliminating violent gangs not only in Northern Virginia but throughout this region."
NORTHERN VIRGINIA is tied to the federal government via billions of dollars in defense and technology contracts. Having a Republican governor would allow for smoother relationships with Virginia's federal elected officials, Warner said.
Virginia's two senators are Republican and eight out of the state's 11 congressmen are Republican.
"More and more of our economy is dependent on the federal government," Warner said. "We need a governor who understands this complicated system and who understands how Virginia can get its fair share a little bit more."