- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

RICHMOND — The independent gubernatorial candidate who has yet to clear 10 percent in polls announced yesterday his plan to increase taxes and tolls by at least $2 billion to “lead Virginia out of the transportation crisis.”

H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican state senator from Winchester, said as governor he would propose a host of tax increases to invest in the state’s ailing highway system.

Of the increases he mentioned yesterday, Mr. Potts said he favors a one percentage point increase in the state income tax for those earning $100,000-plus a year, a $1 per pack tax increase on cigarettes and a one percentage point increase in the sales tax.

“The cost of congestion is far greater than the cost of the solution,” Mr. Potts said. “If you’re looking for the free lunch, I am not your guy. … I hate taxes, but I love Virginia more.”

If elected, Mr. Potts said he would call a special session of the General Assembly to address transportation. He said raising at least $2 billion equates to costing each Virginia driver about $1.03 a day.

Many political insiders and party loyalists have dismissed Mr. Potts, who jumped into the gubernatorial race earlier this year.

Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore refuses to debate Mr. Potts because he does not think the senator has a chance of winning. Democratic candidate Timothy M. Kaine will debate Mr. Potts today after a separate debate with Mr. Kilgore.

The election is Nov. 8.

Yesterday, Mr. Potts denounced his opponents as proposing “a big goose egg” and “zero, zippo” when it comes to fixing transportation.

Mr. Kilgore, a former attorney general, has said he would create regional transportation authorities that could call for referendums on raising taxes for roads.

“My plan is doable, but Russ Potts can never get his plan passed through the General Assembly,” Mr. Kilgore said during a conference call yesterday. “My plan is going to get traffic moving again in Northern Virginia.”

Mr. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, has said he would restore taxpayers’ trust in Richmond by putting a lock on the Transportation Trust Fund. The procedure requires a state constitutional amendment and could not be completed until at least 2009 because it would be subject to voter approval.

Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner called the Potts plan an “enormous” tax increase. And she said Mr. Kilgore’s campaign promises on education, real estate tax relief and other items will force local governments to raise taxes.

“Tim Kaine is the only candidate in the race who is not making a promise to raise taxes,” she said. In addition, Mr. Kaine wants to make sure the $1 billion in insurance premiums collected over six years is spent on transportation.

“He will make sure the money the General Assembly has already committed to transportation goes into transportation,” she said.

Last year, Mr. Potts and Mr. Kaine supported a $1.38 billion tax increase package that also cut some taxes. That plan, which lawmakers fought about for an unprecedented four months, did not provide any increased funding for transportation.

Mr. Kilgore opposed the plan and has positioned himself as the only anti-tax candidate in the three-way race.

“It looks like Russ Potts and Tim Kaine resemble little children constantly asking their parents for a bigger allowance,” said Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin. “They don’t know their parents work for their money, and they don’t care, they just want more of it.”

Mr. Potts and Mr. Kaine each favored a tax-increase package of nearly $4 billion initially proposed last year. It would have raised gasoline and income taxes to invest in transportation.

Yesterday, Mr. Potts said that because of volatile gasoline prices, he doesn’t favor increasing the gasoline tax at this time. He said he may consider a one-cent per gallon increase if prices stabilize.

Mr. Potts’ proposals include a “gas guzzler” sales tax on vehicles sold that achieve less than 15 miles per gallon in the city. Mr. Potts also stressed the importance of tolls and being creative with private road projects and private-public partnerships.

Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, who proposed the nearly $4 billion tax increase last year, agreed with Mr. Potts yesterday that a “sustainable” funding source is needed for transportation.

“It’s not a matter of how much it’s going to cost. It’s going to cost more than we have, and it’s going to cost more than we can raise,” he said. “The question is, how much can we raise to make a plausible impact on the needs?”

Mr. Potts said that if elected, he immediately would work on several highway projects, including widening Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia and building another Potomac River crossing. He also said his plan would create 100,000 new jobs in road construction.

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