Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has no plans to call a special General Assembly session to consider repealing new fees against bad drivers, despite public outrage, a potential lawsuit and a lawmaker’s demand that he do so.
“The governor doesn’t see a need for a special session,” Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said yesterday. “Why don’t we wait until there is some real-world experience? Because to my knowledge no one has been impacted yet, and oh my gosh it might even promote safer driving in the meantime.”
House Speaker William J. Howell agreed. “I think we have all been listening to the concerns people have, and we can all address the needs of people in January” when lawmakers return to Richmond for a regular session, said Mr. Howell, Stafford County Republican.
The public backlash against the new “abuser fees” and legal questions about the constitutionality of a regional taxing authority in Northern Virginia have cast doubt upon the multibillion-dollar transportation package that Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly hailed as “landmark legislation” when it passed about three months ago.
Yesterday, Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William Republican, demanded Mr. Kaine call a special session so lawmakers could repeal the law.
“While many of us have supported the concept of penalizing the worst-of-the-worst drivers on our roadways in the commonwealth, I believe the abuser-fee provisions enacted by the General Assembly this year to be egregious and excessive,” Mr. Frederick wrote in a letter to Mr. Kaine. “Tens of thousands of Virginians have signed petitions and contacted their legislators demanding the repeal of this legislation, and I agree.”
“I hope you will take this opportunity to respond to the wishes — and demands — of the people of Virginia,” he said.
Among the major complaints are the fees apply only to Virginia residents and that some infractions are not for abusive behavior, including a first-time offense for driving over 80 mph on an interstate, which carries a $350 annual fee for three years.
The fees are expected to raise $65 million annually.
Also yesterday, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority yesterday filed a “bond validation suit” in Arlington Circuit Court that “will essentially allow the courts to consider and affirm the [authority’s] ability to levy the taxes and fees authorized by the General Assembly.”
The suit was filed less than 24 hours after the authority approved seven new taxes and fees that would generate an estimated $300 million a year for local road and rail projects.
Under the suit, anybody questioning the legality of the taxes and fees will have a chance to make their case in court.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Delegate Robert G. Marshall have argued the authority cannot impose a local or regional tax because the Virginia Constitution states a regional government can have taxing power but a regional government must be established by a majority of voters within each jurisdiction participating in the regional government.
The authority’s 16 members were appointed, not elected, so they are not accountable to voters, said Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican.
Mr. Howell said yesterday said he is “confident” the court will uphold the authority’s new taxing power.
Mr. Frederick’s request follows one by John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, sent Wednesday to eight legislators, Mr. Kaine and Lt. Gov. William T. Bolling, warning them the state would face a lawsuit if they do not amend the fees.
Mr. Whitehead called the new traffic law discriminatory and an unreasonable method of raising revenue for road and rail projects.
In addition, Bryan Ault, a 28-year-old computer systems tester from Alexandria, has collected more than 54,000 online signatures in a petition against the law.
Mr. Howell and Delegate David B. Albo, the Fairfax County Republican who sponsored the plan, have said the effect of the new law has been exaggerated by misinformation on blog sites and in the news media.
“Legislators agree with the statement by Governor Kaine on August 28, 2006 when he explained his support for the abuser fees: ‘The dangerous behavior of unsafe drivers threatens the safety of other drivers and causes accidents that create congestion. Those drivers should be financially accountable for their actions,’ ” Mr. Howell says on his Web site.
The governor’s office estimated the new law would affect only about 2 percent of Virginians.