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Congressional candidates' claims are essentially true, but don't tell whole story.

Hugs and Taxes

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Most of us will never know for sure whether state Sen. J. Randy Forbes is a good hugger, as a woman in a campaign ad claimed.

We'll have to leave that decision to individual voters in the 4th Congressional District,which includes part of Chesterfield County, and all of Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell.

But with most other advertising claims in the race to succeed the late Democratic Rep. Norman Sisisky, we can help.

The campaigns and national party committees are planning to spend on this race about $3.6 million on advertising through the June 19 election. So, television viewers will need all the help they can get.

Take this ad by the Republican Party of Virginia blasting Democratic candidate state Sen. L. Louise Lucas: "Louise Lucas voted to continue seniors' heavy tax burden on nonprescription drugs. That's right, Louise Lucas voted to keep the high tax on seniors' drugs."

As is often the case in political ads, the grain of truth here is unassailable: Lucas, a state senator since 1992, voted three times to postpone the date when the state would stop imposing the sales tax on nonprescription drugs — in 1992, in 1994 and in 1996. Those bills passed with overwhelming support each time, and the delays freed up more than $31 million a pop for other budget priorities, such as education.

But calling it "the high tax on seniors' drugs"? It was the same 4.5 percent sales tax that applied to other goods in the state, from Geritol to baby oil to lawn mowers.

Democrats couldn't quibble with the Republican ad's claim, but they gleefully fired back with their own ad pointing out that, as a member of the House of Delegates, Forbes himself voted to postpone the repeal.

Twice as a matter of fact.

But he also voted three times to go forward with the repeal.

Here's the checkered story: Forbes voted against postponing the tax break in 1992, and he voted against a bill that would have kept the tax on the books permanently in 1994.

But when a compromise measure calling for the usual two-year delay came around at the end of the same session, he voted for it.

His campaign staff does not have a good explanation for this.

Legislators have been known to cast inconsistent votes in the harried final days of their sessions, but no one can say whether this was the case with Forbes in 1994.

In 1996, Forbes redeemed his original position by voting against postponing the repeal.

But the next year, he turned around and voted to keep the tax permanently. This time the reason was clearer. The measure was part of a bill that would have wiped out income taxes for the poorest Virginians.

That bill died in the Senate anyway. But happy endings abound: The repeal of the tax on nonprescription drugs finally took effect in 1998, and the current budget doesn't impose income taxes on people living in poverty.

Other claims in the ad war — at least so far — don't require nearly as much translation.

One Democratic ad says, "Forbes knows Louise Lucas has a record of making prescription drugs more affordable." Well, she tried to anyway — this ad refers to her support last year for a bill creating a Pharmaceutical Assistance Program for impoverished seniors. The bill never made it out of committee.

Republican TV and radio ads laud Forbes for writing the law "protecting teachers from frivolous lawsuits when they enforce discipline in the classroom." For the record, that bill wrote a 1988 Virginia Supreme Court decision into state law.

A Democratic ad says Lucas is "fighting for … lower taxes."

Nonprescription drug tax aside, Lucas did support a $10,000 tax deduction for seniors in 1994, the car-tax cut in 1998 and the food-tax cut in 1999.

She even supported a more rapid phaseout of the food tax than Forbes, all of which is irrelevant now because stagnating revenues have put that tax cut on hold.

There's one more thing that hadn't shown up in any ads as of press time, but it's sure to come up at some point in the wake of the General Assembly's bitter fight over car-tax relief this year: Lucas voted to slow down the car-tax phaseout by giving only a 55 percent tax cut this year.

Forbes bucked the majority of Senate Republicans and voted against the slowdown.

John Toivonen contributed to this report. — Landmark News Service

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