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Gilmore's tax plan leaves education roadside

GUV'NUH Jim, you should know a lot better. All this pain for the sake of a tax cut we don't need. It makes me wonder whether you've gone and forgotten where you went to school in the first place.

In case you had not heard, our esteemed Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) has engaged in his fight for the eventual elimination of the car tax with a undying zeal. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants for this tax cut. He does not care who the cut hurts, or what essential programs the state's citizens will have to forego. He does not care about the University's - his alma mater's - near-certain fall in national stature due to its lack of funding. All he cares about is "rewarding" Virginia's taxpayers and saving face for future political ambitions.

What he has demanded is the height of irresponsibility and a gross misplacement of priorities. The notion of tax relief and smaller government is good in principle. But Gilmore and his political cronies in Richmond have taken this concept to a perverse extreme, and our University will have to bear a large portion of the burden. It is patently wrong, and a man as intelligent as Gilmore should know better.

Those of us who have been at the University long enough know that compared to other states, Virginia does not place a high financial priority on funding its universities. The legislature as a whole, along with our current governor, has taken the easy road of superficially appealing political plays. After all, they can still claim to have a balanced budget, and even more appealing, they balanced the "hated" car tax. But paying for an unneeded tax cut during a time of relative prosperity by forcing universities to cut their budgets is backward thinking.

Related Links
  • Richmond Times Dispatch coverage of Gilmore tax cut

  • While no one knows what the future holds, we are not at present in a recession. You are supposed to save tax cuts for hard times when people need the extra help. If you can balance your budget and reduce taxes without cutting into vital areas such as higher education, then by all means, cut taxes. But those conditions do not apply here.

    And Gilmore's reckless attitude toward university funding cuts during times of plenty leaves one wondering how far he would go during more difficult times. Republicans tend to eschew populism. In fact, they enjoy throwing the word at Democrats as a kind of insult. However, we all remember those 1997 bumper stickers for Gilmore's gubernatorial campaign that screamed "No Car Tax." It was reminiscent of the American Revolution. But instead of dumping tea into a harbor, Virginia's conservatives slapped stickers on their brand-new SUVs.

    Gilmore's irrational passion for this tax cut is a move designed explicitly to avoid any political attacks in the future. There is no doubt that he has eyes on a higher political office - Republican Sen. John Warner's seat once he retires, perhaps. Gilmore is wary of meeting the same fate as then-Vice President George Bush in 1988 with his "Read my lips" pledge.

    But Gilmore would have defused far more criticism if he made a simple statement. He should admit that pursuing the full car tax cut would cost the Commonwealth - its universities included - too much. He could still reduce the tax, but he would appear far more mature - dare I say "senatorial" - if he conceded that taking the car tax cut to its original extreme would be fiscally irresponsible. It appears that Gilmore finds Virginians incapable of making the distinction between a tax cut zealot and a fiscally reasonable leader.

    In following his present course, Gilmore has gift-wrapped a political attack for any future election opponent. Although there is always room for improved government efficiency, Gilmore is asking Virginia's universities to make cuts where it is simply impossible to do so. The Commonwealth's lack of funding for its colleges has already forced administrations to squeeze their budgets. Meanwhile, lesser schools - we know who they are - creep up in the rankings behind us for the basic reason that their state governments are more generous. And if anyone still believes that the various published rankings of America's colleges and universities don't matter, think again. They do matter, and thanks to Gilmore, our University is in even greater jeopardy than before.

    Gilmore's argument behind the need for the car tax elimination when he ran on it in 1997 was highly questionable. Virginia is a prosperous state, and any such tax cut should be more moderate and flexible. Gilmore's motivations behind his obsession with this tax cut are purely political. But it is Virginia's colleges and universities that have to pay the price for his political ambitions. Excuse the clichŽ, but Gilmore is choosing the easy wrong over the hard right.

    But in this instance, the "right" is not hard at all. It simply requires a bit more foresight and fiscal maturity. Virginia's institutes of higher education are too important for Gov. Gilmore to victimize with his dreams of political grandeur.

    (Timothy DuBoff's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at