- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

Virginia Republicans say their legislative leaders and the new state party chairman played key roles in engineering a new transportation deal that changes the political dynamic in Richmond as state lawmakers head into the fall elections.

The new deal puts the pressure on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who now has nearly six weeks to amend the Republican-backed transportation plan or veto it.

“The Democrats are going to have to go back to the drawing board for their ‘07 strategy,” said Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican. “Republican incumbents will be able to run like they have every other race by saying ‘We may not always agree, but we can get the job done.’ ”

The General Assembly reconvenes April 4 to consider any changes he makes to the plan.

Republicans said Mr. Kaine could fulfill his campaign pledge of fixing the state’s aging transportation network by supporting the package.

But, Mr. Kaine has called the plan “bogus,” and emphatically said he will make “significant amendments” — a move that would throw the plan back to the Republicans’ corner.

“The question is which of the amendments is acceptable,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. “If [Mr. Kaine] comes in with massive statewide tax increases, the House is not going to vote for that.”

Mr. Kaine also could veto the bill, but since it has taken nearly five years to reach a compromise that would be a risky move, Mr. Cuccinelli said.

“The political implications of him vetoing it are dramatic to contemplate,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “He could really flip the table heading into the [fall] election.”

All 140 seats in the House and Senate are up for re-election Nov. 6.

Today, Mr. Kaine sets out on a five-day statewide tour to highlight legislative accomplishments. During the tour, he is likely to face a few questions about the Republican-produced road plan.

Under the plan passed Saturday, officials in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads would be able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for roads through new local taxes and fees.

The remainder of the plan comes from $2.5 billion in bonds borrowed over the next eight years and $184 million-a-year in general funds, which in the past have primarily paid for schools, police and programs for the poor.

Under the plan, Virginians statewide would face one-time fee increase — an additional $10 when registering a car.

Though not perfect, the plan’s passage is at the very least a symbolic win for House Republicans.

In recent years, they have fought off proposals for statewide tax increases pushed by Democrats and a group of Senate Republicans led by Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County.

The atmosphere began to change last fall after U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican, lost the midterm election to Democrat James H. Webb Jr., and some of Mr. Chichester’s closest allies, including state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., Williamsburg Republican, earlier this year decided to work with House leaders to hammer out a transportation deal.

Mr. Chichester maintains that some Senate Republicans supported the compromise because they knew Mr. Kaine would amend it into a more favorable version.

Yesterday, Republicans praised the party’s top brass — most notably House Speaker William J. Howell and Ed Gillespie, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) — for showing leadership behind the scenes that had been missing in the past.

“We were able to work as a team,” said James Rich, chairman of the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee.

Mr. Howell pushed Republican leaders in Richmond to hash out a deal. Meanwhile, Mr. Gillespie kept the grass-roots operations up to date on how the bill would affect their localities and reminded Republicans that if they came out of the session empty handed, it could hurt them at the polls in November.

Mr. Gillespie also orchestrated conference calls that gave congressional committee chairmen a chance to talk to Mr. Howell and other Republicans who were closely involved in the negotiations.

“He was not asking you to jump in a line and do what he tells you,” said Tucker Watkins, chairman of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee.

“Ed Gillespie is the most communicative RPV chairman that I have seen in the 10 or 12 years that I have been doing this. He has been very involved in working with the House speaker in building a consensus, and it is very helpful for Republican Party of Virginia,” Mr. Watkins said. “Ed deserves a … lot of credit for it.”

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