- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine last night called on the General Assembly to use innovative approaches such as land-use planning to solve the state’s transportation woes.

In his first address to the full legislature since taking the oath of office Saturday, Mr. Kaine didn’t propose a specific plan for easing congested roads or improving rail systems. Instead, he implored lawmakers to protect taxpayer dollars that are devoted to transportation and not to shortchange education or health care to pay for new transportation projects.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, also said he will submit legislation that would give local governments more power to demand adequate transportation infrastructure before approving projects.

“Our families in Northern Virginia are angry about the traffic gridlock that stops them from living normal lives,” Mr. Kaine said. “Every additional moment we lose in traffic is time away from our families and from building our businesses. … Gridlock is now a way of life for the majority of Virginians who live in our cities and suburbs.”

Since winning the election last fall, Mr. Kaine held 11 transportation town hall meetings across Virginia. He said by early next week he will submit a long-term transportation investment plan that will “reduce congestion, promote economic growth and keep Virginia moving forward.”

In response, several Republican leaders said the speech lacked specifics.

House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said there were “a lot of platitudes and no substance,” and added that local governments are not using the tools they already have to limit development.

“They have them, but they are afraid to use them,” the Fairfax County Republican said.

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall said Mr. Kaine was right to forgo specifics until he has spoken with key legislative leaders.

“He didn’t come in and say, here’s what we need to do,” the Richmond Democrat said. “He really said, let’s sit down and work together and see if we can’t find some common ground that will address those needs in transportation.”

Mr. Kaine’s speech does not serve as the official State of the Commonwealth address because former Gov. Mark Warner delivered it last week before his term ended Saturday.

Last night’s speech was the first specific outline of Mr. Kaine’s plans for the next four years.

Mr. Kaine also said he will push legislation that would increase teacher salaries, cut health insurance costs for small businesses, fund expansion of the Department of Veterans Affairs for military families and allow localities to exempt from taxes as much as 20 percent of the assessed value of homes and small farms.

Senior lawmakers will spend the rest of the session, which began last week, crafting a new two-year budget.

They have a more than $1 billion surplus to work with, though few lawmakers can agree on the best way to use the money allocated for the state’s transportation needs.

Last night, Mr. Kaine announced that he had signed an executive order to create the Start Strong Council, a bipartisan commission tasked with developing guidelines for universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds.

Lt. Gov. William T. Bolling, a Republican also inaugurated Saturday, said he thinks there is common ground between the two parties. But, he questioned the urgency for the pre-kindergarten plan.

“We’ve got a lot of other needs in Virginia that we have to address. If you want to build a transportation system for the 21st century without raising taxes, you just can’t embark on all of these new and costly government programs at the same time,” he said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester said he worries that some of Mr. Kaine’s ideas would be burdensome if the state were to face a budget shortfall.

“Everything that he talks about are not unsound proposals that you would want to squash right away, they’re all items that probably help quality of life, but they also have long financial tentacles to them that may overburden the general fund at some point in time,” the Stafford County Republican said.

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