- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

RICHMOND — Despite a fruitless year of wrangling over transportation funding, legislative leaders held out hope yesterday that some progress can be made in the 46-day session that begins Jan. 10.

Sen. Marty E. Williams, Newport News Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said Virginians are growing increasingly weary of gridlock on the highways and in the legislative process.

“Folks in my district are angry,” Mr. Williams told reporters and editors from throughout the state attending the annual Associated Press Day at the Capital. “I’m beginning to believe people are going to demand that we do something, and that we will do something because it’s an election year.”

All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election in November. Typically, legislators do not tackle tough and complex issues in election years.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, agreed with Mr. Williams that this election year could be different, but he was more guarded in his optimism, saying House Republican leaders will not back down from their opposition to tax increases to pay for highway improvements.

The philosophical divide between the House and the Senate, which insisted on a tax increase, was at the heart of this year’s transportation stalemate. The fight kept the legislature in session for nearly nine months, ending with no substantial action in late September.

“There will have to be some compromises made,” said Mr. Griffith, mentioning increased borrowing and additional fines for dangerous drivers — two House proposals that died in the Senate. “You’re not going to get a huge tax increase through the House.”

Mr. Williams acknowledged that steps can be taken that don’t involve taxes and said senators “will have to lower our expectations.” However, he also repeated the Senate mantra that fixing the state’s transportation problems will require significant new revenue.

“We’ve got to feed the cow we’re getting the milk from,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Griffith said the fundamental disagreement on taxes isn’t the only potential roadblock to progress, suggesting Democrats — including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine — might figure it’s to their advantage if the Republican-controlled legislature fails to appease frustrated commuters.

He said he hopes Mr. Kaine and Democratic legislators “don’t play political games” on the issue.

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said later that the governor made transportation a top priority this year and worked with Senate Republicans and Democrats from both chambers “to try to forge consensus on responsible solutions. It was the House Republican leadership that refused to engage in a serious way.”

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