A standard talking point among supporters of Gov. Jim Gilmore’s candidacy for U.S. Senate is that he left the state economy in great shape, but Gov. Mark Warner went ahead and hiked taxes anyway. They say it’s a myth that Gilmore fudged the budget numbers. In my world, this is an up-is-down, black-is-white claim. It’s counter to everything that I know and everything that I experienced at the time.
Curious whether I’m losing my mind, I spent some quality time on LexisNexis. (Search terms “Warner Gilmore budget,” time span January 1, 2001 – January 1, 2002, the period during which the budget was debated, but Warner had not yet taken office and thus Gilmore was in control of the numbers and the message.) Of the 660 results, I read the abstracts for the first 100 (sorted by relevance), and read any article that was clearly relevant. All the stories back up my recollection quite clearly: the November 16 Post story in which Gilmore announces a $890M shortfall, the December 3 story in the Post in which Gilmore announces a $1B shortfall, and the December 19 story in the Washington Times in which he acknowledges it’s actually a $2B shortfall. In that last story, Gilmore says he’ll need to call for a 5-6% spending cut across all state agencies, and admits that fully half of the state’s $1B rainy day fund will need to be spent on his final budget. I did not find a single article that either claimed or provided evidence that Gilmore had left the state on solid financial footings–every article stated precisely the opposite.
The Post, presumably as puzzled as I am by conservatives’ contrary claims, actually ran an editorial on this topic on Sunday, writing:
At the heart of the Gilmore legacy was his insistence on ramming through a tax cut whose dimensions dwarfed his cavalier initial estimates, and his simultaneous approval of heavy increases in state spending, a strategy — if it can be called that — suggesting that Mr. Gilmore assumed that the boom times in Virginia would never end. He pursued his signature tax cut, a phased repeal of the levy on personal vehicles, even after it became crystal clear that the repeal would drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget and cripple state finances. He insisted on his course despite being warned — by fellow Republicans, among others — that it would eventually force deep reductions in spending on core state priorities including transportation and education. And he shrugged off specific, repeated and well grounded forecasts that Virginia was heading for an economic slowdown brought on by the bursting of the technology and stock market bubble — a slump Mr. Gilmore simply denied.
“State government is in sound financial shape,” he declared sunnily in August 2001, even as state lawmakers from both parties predicted a $500 million revenue shortfall in the commonwealth’s $25 billion budget — about 10 times Mr. Gilmore’s own projections and, as it turned out, itself an underestimation of the state’s actual woes.
It’s a long editorial, and since Fair Use is bursting at the seams with the excerpt I’ve used, let me just recommend that you read the rest of the editorial. The paper explains how Gilmore managed to briefly hide the budget problems (using tobacco settlement money), points out that the $850M-turned-$1B-turned-$2B budget problem ultimately ended up as a $4B shortfall, and they express their shock that Republicans would be so foolhardy as to nominated this man for U.S. Senate. Obviously, I agree on all points.
Here’s my challenge to Virginia Republicans: document your claim that Jim Gilmore left the state without a shortfall and in good financial shape. I’d like to think that I have an open mind about this. (In fact, were I more certain of myself, I’d put some money on it.) Can anybody produce a contemporary newspaper article that supports these claims?