- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2008

RICHMOND — Delegate David B. Albo is standing his ground in support of the “abusive driver” fees that the state started imposing against Virginia drivers in the summer, despite pressure from fellow lawmakers and Virginia residents to scrap the law.

“No one is telling the whole story,” Mr. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, who led the efforts to draft the fees, said yesterday.

Mr. Albo said news coverage over the past weekend focused on a Newport News man who was mistakenly fined $1,050 for how he rode his 18-speed Huffy bicycle, not on a “girl who gets totally blasted and kills a lady coming home from choir practice.”

“There is no mention of the fact this girl will be subject to the abuser fee,” he told The Washington Times. “I’m worried that the truth isn’t getting out.”

The fees, which range from $750 to $3,000 and are imposed on felony- and misdemeanor-driving offenses, were part of the multibillion-dollar transportation deal that the Republican-controlled Assembly and Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, approved last year. They were supposed to raise $65 million a year for highway maintenance and were billed as a way to improve public safety.

But since the fees went into effect, more than 180,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the law to be repealed, lawmakers have been pummeled with complaints, and Mr. Albo has seen support dwindle.

In response, Mr. Kaine and leading Republican lawmakers joined in August to urge residents to give the program time, with the promise they would revisit the issue upon returning for the 2008 Assembly session, which started in Richmond last week.

The last straw for many lawmakers occurred in December when the Assembly’s Joint Legislative Review and Audit Commission suggested that the revenue would fall short of the original projection and that the fees’ effect on public safety was uncertain.

Mr. Kaine, in his State of the Commonwealth address last week, called for a repeal. And yesterday, Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, told The Times that the majority of the House Republican Caucus members will likely support scrapping the fees.

“When it came back that it wasn’t making a significant impact statistically on the accidents and the funding, that was sort of the nail in the coffin,” he said.

Mr. Albo said Virginia is “right on track” to meet the projected $65 million, based on a similar program in Texas.

He also said he does not feel as if Republican leaders have abandon him

“All I’m saying is, I think it can be fixed,” he said. “I don’t think that we should repeal the abuser fees, thus cutting fines and fees on drunk drivers, then increase the fees on the law-abiding citizens. It just seems ludicrous to me.”

Democrats hope they will be able to use the fees against Mr. Albo in the 2009 election.

“Democrats up here are still remorseful we did not put someone up against him this election, and that is not going to happen again,” said George Burke, chairman of the 11th Congressional District Democratic Committee. “We hope he defends those abuser fees right to the end.”

Mr. Albo welcomes the challenge.

“If people want to run on increasing taxes on law-abiding citizens and cutting taxes on drunk drivers, then we can have that debate because that is what it is all about,” he said.

Mr. Albo has proposed a replacement for the fees that reduces the number of offenses to the most serious and makes them apply to in-state and out-of-state drivers. He also questions how lawmakers plan to make up the $65 million if the fees are repealed.

Senate Democrats have proposed making up the expected revenue loss by increasing the gas tax, which is currently 17.5 cents a gallon and has not been increased since 1986. And Mr. Kaine yesterday suggested increasing the tax on car sales from 3 percent to 5 percent.

But House Republicans have no interest in a tax increase.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Brian J. Moran of Alexandria predicted that the fees program will not meet revenue projections and said the talk about making up the money is simply politics.

The fees diminish “our reputation for wise and reasoned legislation,” said Mr. Moran, who is expected to run for governor in 2009. “His stubbornness in this case is not well-placed.”

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