- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, in his State of the Commonwealth address yesterday, told lawmakers that there has never been a greater need for a bipartisan solution to Virginia’s beleaguered transportation system and that “modest” tax increases would provide the much-needed long-term funding source.

“The time for a solution is now,” Mr. Kaine told the 140 members of the 2007 General Assembly, which convened yesterday and gathered at the Jamestown Settlement to help kick off the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of America’s first permanent English settlement.

“I look forward to working with you over the next 45 days to show Virginians that the oldest continuously operating legislative body in the world, begun here at Jamestown in 1619, still has the mettle to tackle great challenges and succeed,” Mr. Kaine said.

In his speech, Mr. Kaine said he hoped the House of Delegates and the Senate could get over their philosophical differences by remembering previous bipartisan accomplishments that led to the state’s low unemployment rate, low tax burden and designation as the most business-friendly state in the country. The House and the Senate are controlled by Republicans.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, also pointed out the progress the General Assembly made last year — raising teacher pay, wiping out the estate tax and passing traffic-impact statement legislation that ties state transportation planning to local land-use planning.

This will be the second time in as many years that the General Assembly will try to work toward transportation upgrades. Last year, the General Assembly made little movement on the issue, after disagreeing for nine months.

Mr. Kaine also encouraged lawmakers:

• To increase the minimum wage.

• To cut income taxes for the state’s working poor.

• To revisit the state’s deregulation law to ensure that Virginians are protected from “dramatic price spikes seen in other states.”

• To raise teacher salaries an additional 3 percent.

• To expand benefits for the 7,200 members of Virginia’s National Guard.

Two additional pushes by Mr. Kaine included funding pre-kindergarten programs and expanding benefits for family members of active-duty personnel who are disabled or killed in service to their country.

The governor’s remarks came several hours after Vice President Dick Cheney addressed lawmakers in Jamestown.

Republicans and Democrats agree that the transportation fight is likely to play a major role in the elections this fall, especially for those lawmakers who represent Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — the most congested parts of the state. All 140 seats will be up for election.

In his address last night, Mr. Kaine told lawmakers that now is the time for the legislature to reduce the time Virginians spend sitting in traffic, to improve mass transit and to ensure that first responders can do their jobs without having “clogged roads blocking their paths in times of emergency.”

“Each of these problems is serious, and they are worsening while we wait,” Mr. Kaine said.

Last week, Mr. Kaine proposed about $1 billion in new taxes and fees, including a 2 percent increase of the sales tax on cars and an increase in vehicle-registration fees.

Yesterday, Mr. Kaine sounded optimistic, even though the proposal is almost identical to a plan the anti-tax House leadership rejected last year.

“The increases are modest and less than similar charges to surrounding states,” Mr. Kaine said. “I urge you to find long-term, sustainable revenues for transportation with the best interests of the commonwealth in mind.”

In the Republican response, Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, of Prince William County, and Sen. J. Brandon Bell II, of Roanoke County, called for tax reform and a change in the state’s eminent-domain laws. They also criticized the governor’s push to increase taxes for transportation.

“Simply making our current, failed system bigger will only result in a bigger problem,” Mr. Frederick said. “We must confront a root cause of congestion — uncontrolled and unmanaged growth and development.”

Mr. Frederick said the state should take advantage of its top-notch bond rating to raise money for roads, and make certain that money raised for transportation goes toward transportation.

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