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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Kilgore says his views are common sense; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

His gubernatorial opponents brand his positions as anti-education, soft on illegal drugs and wrong on fiscal policy.

But former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore says his views reflect common sense — and his Southwest Virginia background.

His Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, and others have made much of the fact that Kilgore, the Republican nominee, has reservations about mandatory restrictions on pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter congestion remedy also used to make methamphetamine.

Gov. Mark R. Warner and the GOP House of Delegates leaders announced plans for such rules earlier this month.
Kaine has radio ads running in some markets charging that Kilgore’s support from the pharmaceutical industry, about $500,000 in the last published financial report, are behind his position.

That’s simply not true, Kilgore said in an exclusive interview with The Northern Virginia Daily on Friday.

“I’m the only candidate in this race for governor that has even put forth legislation and led on fighting methamphetamine,” he said. As attorney general, he championed stiff penalties for those who “cook” meth around children.

His “Meth Watch” program won praise from the federal government — and law enforcement quarters of the Warner administration.

But in places like Kilgore’s native Scott County, a late-night run for cold medicine can be an ordeal. Forcing consumers to buy only from a pharmacy would send many in his hometown of Gate City into Tennessee.

“I guess I’m the only one in this race looking out for rural Virginians,” he said. “I can support a mandatory plan that can takes [rural concerns] into consideration,” he said. Kilgore added that he’s won promises from House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, that a task force crafting legislation will keep rural issues in mind.

“The one person who has been AWOL on this issue consistently has been Tim Kaine.”

On the fiscal front, Kilgore wants nothing less than to completely rethink the way Richmond collects and spends money.

“We’re not going to hire agency heads that believe in the spend down model of budgeting, that you have to spend every dime in your budget or you’re going to get penalized in next year’s budget cycle,” he said.

Instead, agency heads will told to save money as they can. Leftovers at the end of the year would go two places — 25 percent for one-time bonuses in the department, 75 percent for capital projects like roads.

That includes changing the tax relationship between local governments and the state.

Now, “50 percent of the money goes back to localities [from Richmond], why does 50 percent of the money need to come from there in the first place?” he asked. “If it just needs to come [to Richmond] for [the state] to take our 20 percent, that’s not a good enough reason.”

The campaign has proposed its share of new spending during the race — more than $1 billion according to some accounts.

Kilgore has proposed spending millions on the Virginia Health Care Foundation and higher pay for better qualified teachers, and using general fund dollars to help pay for transportation improvements.

The candidate says he’ll look for ways to trim unneeded or duplicated programs to offset the costs of some of his proposals.

“I’m going to form a watchdog commission on day one, that’s going to be charged with seeking out efficient and effective government,” he said. That will include looking at the 2002 Wilder Commission report, which found some $750 million in possible savings.

One example is work force training. The state currently has 11 agencies deal with some form of work force training, according to Kilgore.

“Why do we need 11? We need one. Community colleges seem to be the places that can do this the best,” he said.

His administration also would consider and audit of all state services for efficiency.

Kilgore steadfastly refused to back away from his opposition of the 2004 budget deal, which raised taxes by $1.6 billion. Some 57 percent of respondents in a July Mason-Dixon poll said they supported the deal.

But the question was an easy one to say “yes” to, he said.

“Let’s be fair,” he said. “Ask Virginians if they favor the most massive tax increase in history when their leaders knew that the economy was growing and we were going to see a huge surplus.”

That’s one thing that would change quickly on his watch, Kilgore said.
“We’ve been totally unable down in Richmond to conduct forecasting. I know where to go to get control of the process at Planning and Budget, and our finance agencies,” he said.

At the same time, Kilgore said he wouldn’t undo the 2004 package in total.

“I’m not going to re-battle the battles of the past, but what I am going to do is have targeted tax relief,” he said, including tax credits for business development in Southside and Southwest, plus an end to the estate tax. He also supports finishing the roll back of the car tax.

Charges by opponents that his position makes him anti-education and anti-law enforcement are just a “tired old liberal tax-and-spend argument.”

“Anytime someone wants to give more money back to the people, they say you’re anti-education, anti-law enforcement, anti-everything under the sun,” he said. “That doesn’t hold water, people are smarter than that.”

“Raising taxes does not equal leading,” he said. “Raising taxes does not mean being effective.”

Kilgore has changed course on two fiscal matters in recent years — real estate taxes and the lottery.

In 2003, two bills came before the General Assembly that would of have capped local real estate tax rate increases at 5 percent per year. At the time, Kilgore told The Virginian-Pilot that the bills weren’t a good idea.

“I don’t think that moves the ball any further,” he said. “We don’t need to needlessly meddle in local government.”

In the 2005 campaign, Kilgore has made changes to real estate taxes a centerpiece of his agenda. Under Kilgore’s plan, localities would be allowed to increase assessments only 5 percent per year — making the maximum increase 20 percent every four years.

Local governments would still be free to set rates as they see fit following a public hearing.

The difference between 2003 and now, Kilgore’s campaign has said, is that the earlier legislation would have tampered with tax rates rather than holding the line on assessments. And now there is a need, Kilgore said Friday.

“At that time, we hadn’t seen the assessments skyrocket like they have over the last year,” Kilgore said. “You don’t need to needlessly meddle in local government, but when there’s a need to get involved, when they abuse their power, you’ve got to get involved from the state level.”

Massive increases around the state in the past year are simply out of line, Kilgore said.

“Those assessments came out and people were in sticker shock,” he said.

Kilgore also has changed his view of the Virginia Lottery.

Democrats have repeatedly hit Kilgore over his position on the lottery during his first, unsuccessful run for attorney general in 1997. During that campaign, Kilgore said he supported a repeal of the then 10-year-old lottery.

Kilgore said he favored repealing the lottery then, but only because it hadn’t been committed to education as promised during the 1987 campaign to enact it.

“I recognized that the lawmakers had broken trust with the citizens,” he said. “[Lottery proceeds] still hadn’t been rolled into education.”

After the GOP took control of the legislature in the late 1990s, though, “we rolled all those dollars” into education, taking away any need to roll back the state’s most popular form of gambling.

Voters have approved a constitutional amendment since then that requires that all lottery proceeds must go to fund schools.

“I have not encouraged a referendum on the lottery since then because now we’re being honest with our citizens,” he said. “We’re keeping the promise we made.”

Election Day is Nov. 8.