Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore's quixotic quest to repeal that state's "car tax" a decade ago was emblematic of two popular (if misguided) tax policy themes of the late 1990s: unaffordable tax cuts prompted by ephemeral budget surpluses, and faux-populist efforts to cut state and local property taxes on motor vehicles. Gilmore's car tax cut was ultimately pared back in the face of huge budget deficits, and many observers have been sharply critical of his efforts to make his car tax cut seem more affordable than it actually was.
Nonetheless, after a six year absence from elected office, Gilmore has returned to Virginia to campaign for an open US Senate seat this fall. However, the ex-governor is finding less than a warm welcome from elected officials who still remember the car tax debacle: a Republican House member who was instrumental in the passage of Gilmore's original tax cuts has announced his endorsement of Mark Warner, Gilmore's Democratic rival for the Senate seat, citing the governor's use of erroneous fiscal forecasts in beating the drum for the car tax repeal effort. The lesson for policymakers: championing tax cuts isn't a recipe for political success unless your state can actually afford them.