- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday that the public’s response to legislative gridlock on transportation improvements prompted him to renew his proposals to increase vehicle registration fees and the sales tax on new cars.

Anti-tax Republicans, who control the House of Delegates, rejected the proposals during the extended session last year. Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, will ask lawmakers to reconsider during the 46-day election-year session that begins Wednesday.

After legislators left Richmond in September without accomplishing any substantial transportation measures, Mr. Kaine declared the issue dead until at least 2008. He said he changed his mind after lawmakers got an earful from traffic-weary constituents.

“They said, ‘What’s this about 250 days and not solving the state’s biggest problem? Go back and solve it,’ ” Mr. Kaine said after announcing his transportation plan.

House Republican leaders did not sound encouraging.

“Frankly, I believe everyone involved in and impacted by Virginia’s transportation challenges hoped the governor would put in the effort to develop a new plan, and not reintroduce statewide tax and fee increases that failed almost a year ago,” said House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford County.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem said: “The bottom line is there are some fairly significant tax increases in there. It’s just more of the same.”

Mr. Kaine’s proposals would raise about $660 million next year on top of his previously announced, one-time $500 million infusion of cash. Revenue generated by the package would grow steadily to about $859 million annually in fiscal 2013.

The centerpiece is a 2 percent increase in the sales tax on new vehicles. The tax rate would go from 3 percent — among the lowest in the country, Mr. Kaine said — to the same 5 percent that Virginians pay for other products, generating about $361 million in the first year.

“When we need to raise money for transportation, what’s the justification for having a lower tax on autos than any other item?” Mr. Kaine said. “It suggests we’re not serious about solving the problem if we don’t talk about that revenue source.”

Mr. Griffith said a lower sales tax on cars is appropriate because Virginians also pay an annual personal property tax on their vehicles, but not on other items. He also said the tax increase would hurt the economy by dampening new car sales.

Don Hall, president of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, agreed.

“You’d be raising the cost of buying a car by an average of about $500,” he said. “For the average citizen, $500 is a lot of money, and you’d have to come up with that at the point of sale.”

Mr. Kaine also proposed increasing the registration fee for vehicles from $29.50 to $44.50 this year and to $49.50 in 2010. Registration fees also would be increased for heavy trucks, based on weight. Car and truck fee increases combined would bring in about $132 million a year.

Other proposals would dedicate an existing car insurance tax to transportation and impose “abuser fees” on drunken or reckless drivers.

House Republican leaders have supported the abuser fees in the past, but Mr. Kaine acknowledged that the major components of his package will be a tougher sell.

“I fully expect discussions, debate and compromise,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kaine’s plan is not all about money. He also will ask legislators to give local government the power to deny rezoning requests for projects that would generate more traffic than local roads can bear.

He also renewed his plea for legislation that would prohibit using highway construction and maintenance money for any other purpose.

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