The three Republicans running for governor have each outlined a tax plan, and they couldn’t be more different.
You know that old saying that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes? Here in Virginia, there’s another certainty: Every year is an election year. And this year features a hotly contested primary fight between three Republicans running for governor, each with his own separate and distinct tax plan.
“Well this is really more of a conversation than Republicans usually have a about taxes," says Stephen Farnsworth, at the University of Mary Washington. "You have a candidate willing to increase taxes, a candidate willing to abolish the income tax and then, I guess, the Goldilocks plan, which is in the middle."
The Goldilocks in this campaign is former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. Back in March, he outlined a proposal to cut taxes 10 percent across the board.
“Our rates were set in 1972. They have not come down in 45 years, and other states around us have been moving,” explained Gillespie at the time.
The idea is classically Republican: cut taxes and turbo charge the economy, creating jobs in the process.
“It would also result in hard-working Virginians who have had stagnant wages but rising costs over the past three, four, five years when our economy has been stagnant having nearly thirteen hundred dollars more in our pockets to spend as we see fit,” he said.
That’s $1,300 for families that make more than $100,000 a year. Not exactly the average income, says state Senator Frank Wagner. He’s running against Gillespie in the primary. During a televised debate last month, he went after Gillespie’s plan as irresponsible.
“Let me tell you something. It’s easy to say that when you’re sitting here and you’ve never been in state government,” said Wagner during the debate. "We have an $18 billion deficit in the Virginia Retirement System. We have a Rainy Day Fund for a recession that should be at $2.4 billion. It’s down to less than $300 million right now.”
To solve the problem, Wagner is proposing a sliding scale for the gas tax. Under his proposal, it would fall when gas prices go up and rise when gas prices go down. And, yes, this is a Republican candidate for governor calling for higher taxes.
“I can’t remember a Republican candidate for statewide office in Virginia running on a tax increase," says Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University. “And there probably aren’t a dozen national in the last decade or two decades who have run on a tax increase like Frank Wagner is right now.”
Wagner may be the only Republican in the race pushing to increase taxes. But he’s not the only Republican in the race criticizing Gillespie’s tax plan.
Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart is also running for governor. He says Gillespie’s plan is unrealistic.
“Virginia hasn’t had a significant surplus in revenues, unanticipated unaccounted for revenues, in ten years," Stewart says. "Ed’s plan is completely dependent on that. It hasn’t happened. It’s a charade.”
Stewart's solution is to ask state departments to identify how they would slash their budgets by 30-percent, and then use those cuts as a menu to reduce spending.
“My tax plan is dependent on a cut in spending. We are going to reduce the rate from 5.75-percent to 4.75-percent in a single year,” says Stewart.
Within a decade, Stewart says, the income tax would be eliminated altogether. But Republican strategist Dan Scandling says that plan isn’t realistic.
“That’s wishful thinking. That’s not going to happen because what are you going to replace it with?" questions Scandling. "Are you going to do something on property taxes and push it all onto the localities? I don’t think that’s going to go over very well.”
Republicans will decide which tax plan they like better when they head to the polls in June.