- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

RICHMOND — House Republicans offered a $2 billion, four-year financing plan yesterday that is underwritten partly by new fines on lead-footed drivers.

The plan provides only about half of the additional revenue for roads, commuter rails and transit that competing plans by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, and several Republican Senate leaders would generate by 2010.

The House plan would give Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads hundreds of millions more to ease congestion.

Unlike the Senate and administration plans, the House plan includes no additional taxes, nor will any be added in the remaining weeks of negotiations, said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican.

Seventeen Republican delegates in 2004 broke with their party’s unbending anti-tax promise and helped pass a $1.4 billion tax increase. But Mr. Howell said the Republican majority will not fragment if faced with another high-stakes showdown with a popular Democratic governor.

House Republicans offered their financial plan a month into the 2006 session. Since then, the conservative Republican majority outlined two other planks of its transportation package but withheld financing details.

Mr. Kaine this week went on a statewide series of town hall-style meetings to promote his nearly $1 billion-a-year proposal, which includes an automobile titling-tax increase from 3 percent to 5 percent.

However, the administration and the House yesterday praised parts of each other’s plans and spoke optimistically about a compromise.

Mr. Kaine sent Mr. Howell a letter complimenting the House for many of its transportation ideas — particularly penalties on abusive drivers, support for stronger local land-use laws and greater outsourcing of Virginia Department of Transportation maintenance work.

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor and his advisers were still analyzing the proposal yesterday afternoon.

He said the House plan applies only an additional $50 million annually for the maintenance backlog already at $350 million and growing.

The House proposes using $552 million from the anticipated surplus of more than $1 billion in its financing package next year only — a one-time windfall that makes up one-fourth of the overall package.

House Republicans also would dedicate to transportation one-third of the tax motorists pay on their automobile insurance, or $579 million over four years.

House Democratic leaders said the Republican package was too skimpy and relied too heavily on a dubious estimate that the fines on the habitually bad drivers in the hundreds of dollars — perhaps thousands for the worst offenders — would generate nearly $600 million within four years.

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