Candidates for the Virginia General Assembly sparred over national and local economic issues in a political forum at the Williamsburg Regional Library Tuesday.
The debate, sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, hosted the local district’s incumbents, Sen. John Miller (D) and Del. Robin Abbott (D-93rd), and their respective challengers, Mickey Chohany (R) and Mike Watson (R).
A taxation taboo became a theme of the debate, as the hesitation to tax was echoed by the candidates across the major issues.
Chohany advocated for greater tourism funds to combat Williamsburg’s falling tourism rate, yet hesitated about raising taxing to accomplish the goal.
Watson called for greater government transparency and a move away from big government as ways to jumpstart the economy.
“When it comes to the economy, the number one thing Mike wants to do is focus on small business,” Watson’s Campaign Manager Annette James said. “It’s important to restore that confidence in small business so they can start the hiring processes again. The state of Virginia is going to be with them when it comes to taxes and things like that.”
Watson argued for offshore drilling and funding from Hampton Roads, which accumulates 23 percent of state revenue for transportation, as a way to fund roads.
“The number one goal is to create a strong contingency of delegates from this region who will go to Richmond and stand together, to get the tax money that comes from this area to come back to this area and get the infrastructure that is needed,” James said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) plan to place tolls on Interstate 95 was supported by both Chohany and Miller. Miller even argued for tolls at the state border for all interstates.
Yet Miller later refuted the claim that he would tax every mile that people drive. Instead, Miller said, he asked for a study on all options for a tax based on mileage.
Watson disagreed, calling for more audits of state government departments.
With regard to the recently passed business tax on gross receipts and the machinery and tool tax, Abbott advocated altering, rather than repealing, the tax, while Watson called for a complete push back.
Candidates were also given the opportunity to counter the political advertising of their opponents.
Watson contested the accusation that his company, Control Automation Technologies Corporation, has a history of faulty tax payments, a claim that surfaced after Watson used an unflattering photo of Abbott for his campaign.
“Mike Watson spent 17 years dodging his responsibility to the middle class families who pay their share in taxes even in a tough economy,” Democratic Party of Virginia Executive Director David Mills said in an email.
“If we can’t trust Watson to pay his own taxes, we certainly can’t trust him to spend other people’s tax dollars wisely.”
Watson refuted the claim.
“If I hadn’t paid my taxes in 17 years, I wouldn’t be here,” Watson said, according to a press release.
Robin Abbott clarified that she is not against small business, but rather a consumer advocate.
Voters will cast their ballots for the election Nov. 8.