- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will recommend an additional $500 million for specific road and rail projects in his budget today, but separately will again seek unspecified “long-term, sustainable” transportation revenue next year.

Mr. Kaine told the Commonwealth Transportation Board yesterday that the $500 million is a one-time infusion for a handful of projects, but leaves critical and recurring needs untouched.

The spending will be part of the midcourse recommendations he will offer to the General Assembly today for the second half of the two-year state budget belatedly adopted in June.

Among the proposed uses for the outlay:

• $305 million to support public-private construction projects on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia, the Hillsville bypass on State Highway 58, the Interstate 64-264 interchange in Hampton Roads, and Route 50 in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

• $125 million for rail and transit improvements, the Washington region’s Metro service, the Virginia Railway Express commuter line and light rail systems for Norfolk.

• $50 million to relocate rail lines and startup for the Craney Island port-expansion project in south Hampton Roads.

• $20 million split between Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for grants to find technological solutions for congestion in the two regions.

Mr. Kaine said the additional transportation funding from surplus general-fund revenues barely keeps the state ahead of the fast-growing costs of maintaining its existing network of roads.

“No one could claim that this one-time package meets the state’s ongoing transportation needs,” he said, making it clear that he intends to push for the second year in a row new revenues dedicated to transportation.

Last year, Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, proposed more than $3.5 billion in taxes and increased fees and fines to finance a massive backlog of highway and rail construction projects. The Republican-controlled Senate proposed an even larger package, and both died in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates.

Mr. Kaine would not detail what revenue sources he will put before the legislature after it convenes next month, but said it will be separate from the budget.

House Republicans reacted cautiously to his plan to apply $500 million to specified transportation projects, noting that $339 million of that amount was budgeted last year. The money, however, was not spent because the House and Senate failed to agree on a transportation plan despite a record nine months of wrangling.

“I’m glad he embraced the $339 million the House fought for,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem. “He added some of the surplus to it. I’m not going to be critical of him embracing House principles.”

New taxes still hold no appeal to the Republican Party, Mr. Griffith said, but the House would consent to at least one new revenue source: much harsher fines and penalties on drivers who egregiously and repeatedly violate traffic laws.

“We have the abuser fee out there and if he embraces that, fine,” Mr. Griffith said. “Nobody’s going to agree 100 percent, but let’s move forward and see what else we can agree on.”

Also, Mr. Kaine will propose income-tax relief for the lowest-income Virginia households in the budget recommendations.

Mr. Kaine said he will ask lawmakers to boost the minimum income level for people who file separately from the present $7,000 a year to $12,000. The threshold for married couples filing jointly would increase from $14,000 annually to $24,000.

“This is something I believe in deeply, plus you’ve got extra revenue,” Mr. Kaine said in an Associated Press interview yesterday. “Why do it? If you have some extra revenue, that’s a good time to contemplate it.

“I can affect a lot of people by doing this,” he said.

A robust economy in Virginia is projected to yield a surplus of $500 million to $600 million for the state budget year that began July 1.

The governor’s plan, if adopted by the legislature, would take effect Jan. 1, 2008. It would decrease state revenues by nearly $14 million for the second half of fiscal 2007 that ends June 30, 2008, and about $27 million annually after that.

According to administration estimates, Mr. Kaine’s plan would exempt about 147,000 Virginians who had paid an average of $234 in state income taxes from paying any income tax.

Another 176,000 low-income Virginians who had filed tax returns to receive full refunds would no longer have to file.

Mr. Kaine’s tax cut comes at the end of a week that has seen him pledge millions more in funding for public education and health care as well as propose an additional $250 million in bonds for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

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