- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

RICHMOND — As a candidate for governor, Timothy M. Kaine didn’t mind being considered the junior partner of, and logical successor to, Gov. Mark Warner, who helped rescue Virginia Democrats from irrelevance.

Within a week of Mr. Kaine’s inauguration, however, it was clear that this easygoing Democrat would take a much harder line with the Republican legislature than Mr. Warner ever did.

Soon to enter his second year in office, Mr. Kaine has renewed the same battle over transportation that stymied legislators for nine months in 2006 and nearly left state government without spending authority last summer.

In January, six days into his term, he proposed $3.5 billion in new fines, fees and taxes for what became his top postelection priority: Finding long-term and renewable revenues to fund billions of dollars in critical, yet backlogged, transportation projects.

Republicans who rule the Senate were allied with Mr. Kaine, seeking even bigger revenue increases.

But the House’s anti-tax Republican majority balked, prompting Mr. Kaine to target some of them with radio ads and automated phone calls to their constituents.

Those who expected Mr. Kaine to be “Warner Lite” were surprised at tactics so brash and so soon from someone who cautiously cultivated consensus through four years as lieutenant governor and as Richmond’s mayor before that.

“I had disputes with Governor Warner, sure, but Governor Kaine, he’s clearly more partisan,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, one of Mr. Kaine’s most persistent legislative critics.

There were always differences in style and approach between Mr. Warner, who left office with job-approval ratings in the mid-70 percent range, and Mr. Kaine, who still enjoys public backing.

Where Mr. Warner’s willingness to compromise and avoid public clashes with Republicans once irritated many within his own party, Mr. Kaine has never been ambiguous about his ideological, partisan and policy beliefs.

When he leapfrogged transportation over public education to the top of his first-year agenda, he knew his beefy package of new taxes faced fierce opposition in an anti-tax House still stinging from the budget-balancing $1.4 billion tax increase Mr. Warner won in 2004.

So, was his direct, blunt approach from the start prudent?

“Well, the other way to ask it is ‘Would the House have taken a different position on transportation funding under other circumstances?’ I think the answer is no,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press.

With highway congestion putting the economic vibrance of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in peril, Mr. Kaine saw no time for the soft sell or the slow courtship Mr. Warner used to win his fiscal restructuring fight.

Spiraling costs of steel, cement and oil-based asphalt would boost the already daunting price of major road and rail projects by hundreds of millions of dollars with each passing year, he said.

“I was sure that if I didn’t start on the first day that I couldn’t be assured that I would succeed,” Mr. Kaine said.

“You don’t make problems easier by avoiding them. And so, what if I went to year three? OK, then [there is a] 20 percent cost escalation by the time I tackle it. There’s no reason to delay this. Time is our enemy on this, not our friend.”

The House countered Mr. Kaine by offering drastic increases in fines for habitually abusive drivers and redirecting existing revenue streams, including the tax on car-insurance premiums, to roads.

It budgeted $339 million from a surplus in the state’s general fund for transportation. But it held firm against new taxes.

Nearly a year later, little has changed.

In the budget proposals Mr. Kaine submitted Dec. 15, he seeks $500 million directed to a handful of modest projects across the state. It includes the $339 million budgeted last year but left unspent after a legislative deadlock over transportation-funding reform that lingered into September.

Again, Mr. Kaine intends to pursue additional ongoing revenue exclusively for transportation and won’t abide efforts to commandeer general-fund tax receipts from such core uses as schools, health care, public safety and the environment.

He won’t discuss whether he will propose tax increases or tolls or higher fees or harsher fines or any combination thereof.

“If I haven’t announced it, it’s because I’m not ready to announce it, and if I’m not ready to announce it, it usually means I’m trying to make sure it’s put together the best way possible,” he said.

Mr. Griffith and his House Republicans are no less resolved to defeat any statewide tax increase next year.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide