- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Many Virginia lawmakers say there is a slim chance that any major moves will be made when the General Assembly returns to Richmond tomorrow for a special four-day session dedicated to transportation.

“I don’t think you’ll see much of anything,” Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, told The Washington Times. “You’ll hear a lot of things, but you probably won’t see anything constructive. I wish it was not so, and I wish I could be more optimistic.

“The air is going to be filled with a lot of rhetoric,” he added.

Mr. Chichester’s remarks come on the heels of the longest legislative session in state history during which Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Senate locked horns with the House of Delegates over new funding sources for transportation improvements.

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican, said he will continue to oppose tax increases, and encourage the General Assembly to use existing streams of money for roadway upgrades.

“The difference all along is that [the House thinks] there is a lot of existing revenue,” Mr. Howell said. “We don’t think you need to raise new taxes or fees.”

Mr. Howell said he is open to the idea of implementing tolls on new roads, and will continue to push for more land use and Virginia Department of Transportation reforms.

Mr. Chichester said reforms will not “pay for asphalt or concrete.”

Delegate Brian J. Moran, chairman of House Democratic Caucus, supports the Republican reforms, but said the state needs about $1 billion annually in new money to maintain and develop the state’s roads.

“You have to generate new revenue, whether it’s fees, tolls, we need new revenue,” the Alexandria Democrat said. “You can’t get something for nothing.”

About 100 bills have been introduced for the special session, including a proposal to allow the state to raise money through electronic horse-racing wagering machines.

The proposal, submitted by Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, is similar to a system used in Arkansas that allows people to bet on horse races that have already been run.

Mr. Hamilton said the plan could bring as much as $500 million into state coffers.

Legislators in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area continue to push regional self-help plans that would give their localities the power to raise money by increasing local taxes and fees.

The proposals have highlighted a division in the House Republican Party between lawmakers in the state’s most congested areas — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — and those members who do not face bumper-to-bumper traffic on a regular basis.

The Senate leadership and Mr. Kaine have voiced support for a regional proposal, as long as it is part of a broader statewide plan.

The House also is exploring a plan that includes a $1.5 billion bond issue for roads that would be dependent on a voter referendum.

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