- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

Virginia lawmakers’ failed special session this year will cost taxpayers more than just continued headaches in traffic.

The final price tag for the session - a summer assembly called by Gov. Tim Kaine that lasted six days as lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to find funding for state transportation projects - is nearly $117,000, according to administrative offices for the House and Senate.

The cost comes from per-diem payments and mileage reimbursements given to lawmakers. The bill comes back to taxpayers through the state budget, and follows a session by the part-time General Assembly characterized more by partisan bickering than significant progress.

Each legislator in the 40-member, Democrat-controlled Senate is eligible for a $169 per diem payment.

Senate Fiscal Officer Charlotte Mary said none of the lawmakers in attendance during the week of June 23 or Wednesday - the session’s final day that lasted until early Thursday morning and came after a two-week recess - turned down the daily salary.

“We had nobody tell us they didn’t want it,” she said.

Each lawmaker also can receive mileage reimbursement for one round trip between his or her home and Richmond once a week, if they live more than 50 miles from the capital.

The reimbursement rate went from 50.5 to 58.5 cents a mile on July 1, and the Senate’s total mileage costs were $8,563.12. Plus per diem, the Senate’s grand total for the session was $37,800.12, Mrs. Mary said.

In the 100-member, Republican-controlled House, only three lawmakers - Delegate Harry R. Purkey, Virginia Beach Republican; Delegate Kenneth C. Alexander, Norfolk Democrat; and Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey, Richmond Democrat - did not accept their $135 per-diem payment or take advantage of the available mileage reimbursement if eligible.

More than 90 percent of delegates attended the session, except for two days when lawmakers met in an abbreviated or “pro forma” session, said House clerk Bruce F. Jamerson.

The House’s total cost for the session was $79,176.89.

“There are [lawmakers] who are school teachers, there are people who do not have the wherewithal to break away from their jobs,” Mr. Purkey said. “But at the same time, if we’re asking the taxpayers to sacrifice, then we as the legislators should be willing to sacrifice as well.”

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, called legislators to convene June 23 to fund transportation projects and help fill what he projected as a $600 million deficit in funding for road maintenance over the next six years.

But the powerful House Rules Committee on June 26 killed the governor’s plan to raise $1 billion in taxes to help maintain roads throughout the state, increase investments in rail transit and ease congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Republican lawmakers resurrected the bill Wednesday in a politically calculated move that ended with Democrats refusing to back the proposal.

A bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, also died in the House, even after a controversial part of the plan that would have increased the state’s gas tax was removed.

A measure that made it through the House that would have provided regional funding for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads through airport and seaport revenues died in the Senate.

The session ended after 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Mr. Kaine has blamed Republicans for the failure to achieve a solution to the state’s transportation problems.

“His calling the special session was the best way to move toward a transportation solution,” Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said. “It’s unfortunate that not only was the Republican leadership unwilling to take responsibility to come up with a solution, but is now also unwilling to take responsibility for the fact that they wouldn’t do it.”

Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, House Majority Leader and Salem Republican, said Mr. Kaine failed Virginia taxpayers by not achieving a transportation compromise before calling the session.

“Frankly, I think it was ill-advised of the governor to call it without working with us,” he said. “Unfortunately, the taxpayers had to pay for the governor’s folly.”

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