The Washington Times has decreed that the budget surplus will be the hot topic on the gubernatorial campaign trail. Well, yeah, they’d like that, and along with The Washington Post, I’m sure they’ll make taxes the overriding issue in the campaign. Which is bassackwards. You figure out what you want and how much it will cost frist; only then can you determine if you’re willing to pay for it.

But let’s put to rest the silly argument that Kilgore repeatedly makes.

“The fact that the state’s revenues continue to climb with each passing day underscores what Jerry Kilgore was saying last year, which was that the economy was improving, and we should wait to see the numbers before raising taxes unnecessarily,” [spokesman] Mr. Murtaugh said.

If you recall, Virginia was drowning in a sea of red ink when Warner took office, thanks mostly to Jim Gilmore’s ill-advised car tax scam and his reckless spending. If Gilmore was to have followed Kilgore’s plan of action, he would have waited before spending all that money until he knew whether the late 90s windfall was sustainable. But he didn’t. He spent recklessly and cut taxes instead of seeing whether those revenues were to continue.

So even if a governor is expected have a crystal ball, why is it that Kilgore wants to look at only a year’s horizon before making fiscal policy? If you add up skyrocketing Medicaid costs and simply transportation maintenance needs, you can see that the current surplus isn’t, as Russ Potts says, not really a surplus at all.

In fact, Mr. Potts — a Republican state senator from Winchester who is running as an independent — has said that a shortfall in the state pension fund and a lack of funding for health care and education should dispel talk about a surplus.

“There is no surplus. Nothing could be further than the truth,” said Mr. Potts, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which pushed for the tax increase in May last year. “Not only do we have bills in the drawer, we have massive bills in the drawer.”

Potts, of course, has gone in the other direction, seeming to demand a tax hike for transportation without any idea of how he’d spend it. If he thinks a blue ribbon committee is the way to go, he’ll have plenty of push-back from the many people who voted against the transportation referenda a few years ago precisely because they didn’t like the idea of an non-elected commission deciding the future of the Commonwealth’s transportation system.

Kilgore, Potts and Kaine should be called on to outline what those bills in the drawer may look like and how they plan to pay them.

Don’t hold your breath.