- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some Virginia Republicans say the proposed transportation deal forces them to consider how far they will stray from their conservative roots in order to get a comprehensive package approved.

“You can’t call this a conservative bill with a straight face, but nobody is getting out there saying this is a conservative bill,” Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II told The Washington Times.

“Certainly I have been talking to party folks who share my concern for the demise of the Republican brand. We used to be the tax-cutting, or at least the hold-the-line party,” the Fairfax County Republican said. “So what does this do to us as a party? I’m still digesting it all.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said tax and fee increases in the transportation proposal have him pondering “how far am I willing to wander” from his conservative philosophy.

“I have never wandered anywhere before,” he said.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William County Republican, has told constituents repeatedly that he opposes tax increases.

“My view remains unchanged,” he wrote this week.

The proposal includes $500 million in new transportation revenue each year, authorizes $2 billion in long-term borrowing for statewide projects and gives localities in Northern Virginia the power to raise money for regional projects through higher taxes on commercial real estate and home sales and an increased rental-car tax. The Republican-controlled General Assembly continued to polish the proposal this week.

Delegates David B. Albo of Fairfax County and M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights, who support the transportation compromise, said fellow conservative Republicans have several reasons to be pleased with the plan, including the proposed Virginia Department of Transportation reforms and land-use changes aimed at controlling sprawl.

They also stress that the only fee increase is an additional $10 on car registration.

“Most people told me you need to stick to conservative principles and you need to carve out a solution,” Mr. Cox told The Times. “I think we did that.”

James Rich, chairman of the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, said he is pleased with the plan.

“We are taking leadership in the transportation areas because in my district it is a huge issue,” he said. “People are sick of being in traffic, and people have stepped up to the plate to try to solve this thing.”

Still, some Republicans worry the plan is not tied closely enough to the party’s conservative foundation of lower taxes, limited government and less spending.

Mr. Albo said the regional component is conservative because it swaps out a local option to raise income taxes, which has never been used, with the authority to raise “user fees” for roads and mass transit.

“Being conservative doesn’t mean you don’t have solutions,” Mr. Albo said. “Being conservative means you find ways to solve problems.”

For those unhappy with the plan, Mr. Albo said, “tell them to give a way to deliver nearly $400 million for roads in Northern Virginia.”

Some jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have expressed concern about the proposal.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to reject the preliminary deal, signaling its intention not to agree to raise local taxes and fees. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors also has voiced skepticism about the regional self-help plan.

The Prince William County board was concerned that a portion of taxes and fees raised in the county, which under the proposal would go to the regional taxing authority, could be spent elsewhere in the region.

When asked by The Times whether the plan fits the conservative mold, board Chairman Corey A. Stewart replied, “No.”

“It is not only a tax increase, but it is a tax increase that does not address the underlying problem,” Mr. Stewart said. “Only 17 percent of state transportation spending goes to all of Northern Virginia despite the fact that Northern Virginia produces 40 percent of the state’s income.”

Instead of “passing the buck” to local officials, the General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, should rework the state’s transportation distribution formula to ensure Northern Virginia receives its fair share of the money it sends to Richmond, Mr. Stewart said.

“The problem here isn’t that the state is not taxing Northern Virginia enough,” Mr. Stewart said. “The problem is they don’t want to put their money where their mouth is and make transportation a priority.”

James Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief, said the proposed package abandons the conservative tenet of lower taxes.

“Republicans don’t generally gain by raising taxes,” he said. “We are not a party that is generally in favor of tax increases, and I don’t think that is a shocking statement.”

Mr. Parmelee and Robin DeJarnette, executive director of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, said the plan dismisses that voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in 2002 overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to raise the state’s sales tax for roads.

“If they are that confident that this is the best thing they can put together for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia then they shouldn’t have a problem sending it to a referendum again,” Mrs. DeJarnette said.

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