Whitman campaign pledge falling victim to fiscal woes

October 01, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

TRENTON, N.J. -- In remarks that prompted stinging criticism from political opponents, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman says she may not be able to follow through on her pledge to enact yet another tax cut next year.

The governor, contending that the state faces tough budget problems, said Thursday that her administration may be forced to delay enactment of the final phase of the income tax-cutting plan she promised in her inaugural address Jan. 18.

"Well, when I made the announcement, I said 30 percent in three years is what we outlined," Mrs. Whitman said. "We are halfway there now. The real question comes, and, in all honesty, we've got to look at it: Will we make it in three years, or will it take four to reach the 30 percent?"

The governor has suggested in the past that the state's budget outlook could make it difficult to deliver on her tax-cut promise. But Thursday's remarks, made on a Trenton radio talk show, were the most specific yet on the possibility that the state's budget problems could get in the way.

Mrs. Whitman's problems could have ramifications in Maryland's gubernatorial election, where Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey has pledged to cut income taxes by 24 percent over four years.

Just this past Monday, Mrs. Whitman visited Maryland to campaign for Mrs. Sauerbrey, offering herself as proof that such pledges can be kept.

But yesterday, David Seldin, a spokesman for Mrs. Sauerbrey's Democratic opponent, Parris N. Glendening, predicted that Ms. Whitman's difficulties keeping her promise will be repeated in Maryland if Mrs. Sauerbrey is elected.

"It just goes to the point that the only way do what Sauerbrey is talking about doing would be to have massive cuts in education and police and increases in property tax rates," he said.

But Mrs. Sauerbrey said, "I've pledged what I think is doable, and what I intend to do. And I intend to stick by it."

Despite Mrs. Whitman's problems, Mrs. Sauerbrey said she at least is headed in the right direction.

"How fast Christie Whitman gets there is perhaps not as important as the fact she's going to get there, and not going in the direction of her predecessor, who raised taxes," she said.

Asked whether Mrs. Whitman's problems in New Jersey might plant a seed of doubt in the minds of Maryland voters, Mrs. Sauerbrey said: "The voters are going to have to decide who plants the seed of doubt: me or Parris Glendening, who says he is not going to raise taxes but who has raised every tax there is to raise."

In New Jersey, Mrs. Whitman's comments triggered sharp criticism from Democrats, who accused her of breaking campaign pledges on tax cuts and other issues.

"This is a major departure from the pledge she made with New Jersey residents last year," said Assembly Democratic leader Joseph V. Doria Jr. of Bayonne.

"Governor Whitman's credibility gap is widening, and this won't help her or the other Republican politicians who she has been frequently traveling out of state to campaign for."

During the gubernatorial campaign last year, Mrs. Whitman promised to cut state income taxes a total of 30 percent in her first three years in office.

She repeated that promise in her inaugural address.

So far, she has delivered on half that amount. In the spring, she signed legislation that cut taxes 5 percent, retroactive to the beginning of the year. Later, she enacted a 10 percent tax cut that is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Mrs. Whitman has not left herself much of an out on the issue of tax cuts, which could come back to haunt her politically.

"I have just taken the oath of this office you have entrusted to me," she said in her inaugural address. "To me, this oath means one thing: I will not hedge; I will not backtrack; I will keep my promises to you, my friends, to the best of my ability."

While critical of the governor's remark this week, some Democratic analysts said they suspect that the administration eventually will deliver on a tax cut next year but that it would probably be smaller than anticipated.

They asserted that Ms. Whitman's comment was intended merely to lower expectations, preparing the way for a tax cut of around 5 percent rather than the full 15 percent promised.

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