- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly’s opening day of its special session dedicated to transportation funding stalled yesterday after House Democrats said they needed at least one night to consider the $2.4 billion plan proposed by House Republicans.

The stalled talks added to a growing sense among lawmakers that little, if anything, would come out of the next three days.

“The moment is right, but I just don’t see much happening,” said Sen. Robert Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat.

The plan pushed by House Republicans would raise $2.4 billion over six years for roads and mass transit with existing money, long-term debt and some of the state’s surplus.

About $1.5 billion of the plan would come from a 20-year bond that would require voter approval. Virginia has a AAA bond rating.

“What good is it to have AAA bond rating if you never use it?” asked Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican. “This is prudent use of debt and fiscally responsible.”

The package includes about $800 million for Northern Virginia, according to House Appropriations staff.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, Senate Republicans and House Democrats are repeating the same argument they made over the course of the legislative session earlier this year: that a new revenue source is needed for mass transit and easing congestion on the state’s roads, and that the state should not borrow money for those improvements.

House Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition to tax increases. They continue to push for bills that would reform the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“[The House Republicans’ plan] is all based on existing revenue, but it won’t pass the Senate,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican. “So it’s not a solution.”

The lack of movement came a day after the House Finance Committee voted 17-5 against Mr. Albo’s plan to allow Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia — the most traffic-congested areas — to raise new revenue for roads and mass transit through local hotel-motel taxes, levies on rental cars and motor-vehicle registration fees.

The committee also knocked down a Senate proposal to raise $1 billion a year in new taxes and fees for statewide transportation improvements.

Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, said yesterday the House plan falls short of what is needed to cover the cost of maintaining old roads and developing new ones. She related the situation to the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“The emperor may have his T-shirt and undies on, but that’s it,” Mrs. Watts said.

House Democrats could allow a vote to happen on the House Republicans’ package as early as today. The Senate is waiting to see what happens with the $2.4 billion proposal.

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