- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED

On July 10, Gov. Tim Kaine held a press conference to berate General Assembly Republicans for blocking his transportation bill, and to make it clear he’d use this against the GOP in next year’s elections. Problem is, it wasn’t Republicans that killed his bill - it was members of his own party. Historically, when governors call a special session to address a particular issue, they have typically had some consensus on how to address that issue - and certainly, consensus from fellow members of his political party.

Not so with Mr. Kaine. Since Mr. Kaine called the legislature to Richmond, the media reported that his primary motivation seemed to be more about politics than about policy. Specifically, there is much doubt as to whether the governor really wanted to address transportation, or if he just wanted to have a club to beat over House Republicans next year when all 100 members are up for election. Knowing that there was little or no consensus, it is hard to believe that Mr. Kaine expected much to come out of the special session, especially since he had spent more time traveling the nation campaigning for vice president than facilitating discussions between legislators in Virginia. His July 10 statements to the press confirmed that belief.

The governor unveiled his proposal of tax increases in a series of nearly a dozen town hall meetings around the Commonwealth which had been debated among lawmakers, special interests, and in the media for weeks prior to the legislature arriving back to the Capitol. Yet, a funny thing happened when the General Assembly convened: The governor’s bill was declared dead-on-arrival, not by Republicans - but by Senate Democratic leaders, who now control the majority in their chamber. Mr. Kaine couldn’t find a single Democrat in the Senate to sponsor his bill. In the House, he had to twist the House Democratic leader’s arm to sponsor it - who still ended up voting against it.

That’s right - the Senate Democrats refused to even bring Mr. Kaine’s bill up for a vote, and when the bill came up for a vote in the House, the sponsor of the bill voted against it. But he wasn’t the only one. In a unanimous vote, not a single Democrat (or Republican) voted to support the governor’s plan.

In contrast to the Senate, the House majority thought that it was important to give major transportation funding legislation a fair hearing, including Mr. Kaine’s legislation. Three funding bills came to the full House floor for a chance to be debated and put to a straight up-or-down vote. When each of those three bills came to a vote in the House, there wasn’t a straight party-line vote on any of them.

The second bill, legislation sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, also got full consideration by the House. This legislation, which originally contained an increase in the gas tax, sales taxes, and other tax increases, also was rejected by the House with both Democrats and Republicans opposing it.

Finally, the third bill -sponsored by Newport News Republican Phil Hamilton - provided up to $900 million in additional transportation funding to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions, but without raising taxes or fees. This proposal passed the House with both Republican and Democrats supporting it.

In addition, the House passed a number of other transportation related bills over to the Senate - from locking-up the transportation trust fund (so that it can’t be raided for other, non-transportation related spending), to requiring an outside audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to ensure that we’re getting the most of each dollar spent on roads, rail, and transit. This package of legislation, including the funding bill (that didn’t require tax increases), was sent over to the Senate Democrats where they quickly killed each and every one, many of them dying late into the night in committee rooms (thus never getting the benefit of a full floor vote in the Senate).

It isn’t clear how the governor’s failed logic leads him to the conclusion that the failure to address Virginia’s transportation challenges somehow falls upon Republicans. Republicans acted to address Virginia’s transportation challenges. Democrats obstructed - namely, on the governor’s proposals. Mr. Kaine’s press conference reminds me of when my 21-month-old daughter throws a temper tantrum because we gave her the red pacifier instead of the white one. She’s still getting the pacifier, just as the House Republicans did address transportation. But because Mr. Kaine didn’t get the pacifier he wanted (a massive tax hike on hardworking Virginia families), he’s now throwing a tantrum of his own.

Transportation is an urgent problem in the Commonwealth, one that must be addressed. General Assembly Republicans are working toward that goal. Yet, taxpayers in the Old Dominion are crying “uncle” - overtaxed and struggling as it is to make ends meet. For now, asking families to pay more is something the public doesn’t support, and as we’ve seen, nor does the General Assembly.

The governor and his tax-me-more cronies need to get this tax debate behind them. There are many new, innovative, and creative solutions to our transportation crisis that we can act on. But not until Mr. Kaine stops holding them hostage to tax increases.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County is a member of the Virginia House Transportation and Finance Committees, and chairman of the Virginia Republican Party.

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