- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Virginia Republicans say Gov. Timothy M. Kaine should play a bigger role in helping lawmakers reach a compromise on the transportation budget.

“It is game time now,” Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, told The Washington Times. “All the pre-game rhetoric is done with. I think the governor has to decide now to get behind the plan that has the best chance of passing. That is the House Republicans’ plan.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, said Mr. Kaine has been “missing in action” and thinks he and fellow Democrats would rather see talks fail so they can rip Republicans this fall when all 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for election.

“I’m not sure what role he has played,” Mr. Bolling said. “When you look at it, the only thing he has done has been counterproductive.”

Mr. Bolling said Mr. Kaine offered a transportation proposal last month that was almost identical to a plan rejected last year.

Kevin Hall, Mr. Kaine’s spokesman, shrugged off the criticism.

“Governor Kaine has been and will continue to be actively in the discussion he prompted 14 months ago,” Mr. Hall said. “The governor has worked closely with leaders from both parties in both chambers through what is a legislative process, and will continue to urge the leadership to work toward a consensus.”

The transportation fight, largely among Republican leaders in the General Assembly, has dominated state politics since Mr. Kaine took office last year.

Political insiders say disgruntled Republicans are either not closely involved in negotiations or are ignoring the progress made this legislative session.

The House and Senate have reached a general agreement on borrowing $2 billion, regional plans for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, raising fees on abusive drivers, a $10 annual increase in car registration fees, and a 1.5-cent increase in the diesel fuel tax.

With a little more than a week left before the end of the session, the sticking point is whether to pay for transportation projects with money from the state’s general operating fund. The pot of money, built on sales and income taxes, is used primarily for schools, police and human-services programs.

House Republican leaders propose allocating $250 million a year for roads from the general fund.

A bipartisan group of senators, made up of six Republicans and all 17 Democrats, balked at the proposal this week.

The group, led by Finance Chairman John H. Chichester, Northumberland Republican, replaced the general fund money with a $150 fee on first-time new and used car purchases. It would raise an estimated $330 million a year.

Supporters of the plan, including Mr. Kaine, warn that a pledge of $250 million a year from the general fund would pit transportation projects against core services such as education if the economy sours. As a result, they say, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year plan would be based on an unpredictable funding source.

House Republicans disagree.

“Anybody who tells you that we are about to end Western civilization by using general fund money has lost all touch with reality,” Mr. Lingamfelter said. “It is so funny it could make a cat laugh.”

State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said Mr. Kaine could encourage Senate Democrats to support the compromise, which unlike last year has the support of most top Senate Republicans.

“Most of the objections to the [compromise] plan has been from Democrats, and certainly the governor has more ability to influence Democrats to support the plan than Republicans,” he said. “He could play that role if he wanted to.”

A group of six delegates and five senators will make a last-ditch effort to resolve their differences in a conference committee. The General Assembly has failed to reach a solution on the issue since 2002.

Mr. McDonnell says the governor must decide how deeply he wants to get involved in the discussions and whether he is more interested in dedicating additional money for roads or gaining some political ammunition for the elections this fall.

“He’s got to decide whether he wants a significant policy achievement on transportation or have a political achievement in having a bill fail, then blame Republicans,” he said. “I think the governor, having made this the top issue, has some moral obligation to work something out.”

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