- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine suggested yesterday that he is likely to expand the use of $2.5 billion in bond proceeds that are at the heart of a legislative transportation package now under his scrutiny.

After a closed-door meeting with officials from mostly rural cities and counties in central Virginia, Mr. Kaine said the borrowed money should not be limited to Interstate highways and other primary traffic arteries.

As passed by the House and Senate on Feb. 24, the bill would not allow for bond proceeds to be used to maintain or upgrade secondary and urban roads.

“Many of the jurisdictions said they’d looked at this bill [and] there is nothing in it for them. But I think some of those who say that recognize that if we could change the bond proceeds usage to allow urban and secondary road usage, that makes the plan, if not great, at least it provides something for some of these jurisdictions,” Mr. Kaine said after the meeting.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, is traveling across the state to make a case for what he says will be substantial amendments to the Republican-authored transportation bill by a March 26 deadline.

The legislation has three major funding components:

• A regional package that would allow localities in Northern Virginia to levy an estimated $400 million in their own local fees and taxes;

• A Hampton Roads package that would create about $200 million in revenues from a different patchwork of taxes and fees;

• A statewide package that would repay the bonded debt by directing an estimated $185 million annually from the state’s general operating revenues. It also would use general fund budget surpluses in flush years, impose severe and recurring fines on people with bad driving records and increase the annual car registration fee by $10. It would not increase any statewide tax.

Mr. Kaine said local officials outside the two major regions — Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia — don’t want money taken from the general fund, which supports such local government priorities as education and police and fire protection. Nor do they want to assume the costs and burdens of keeping up their smaller roads, he said.

“Transferring responsibilities to local governments which had heretofore been state responsibilities or the state fundamentally rewriting local land use rules and powers caused major heartburn among these groups,” Mr. Kaine said.

Teresa Altemus, a Gloucester County supervisor and president of the Virginia Association of Counties, was among those who met with the governor.

“We still see the general fund — and the depletion of that general fund — [as] an issue for us. Several of us, … we provide fire and rescue, we provide educational money and that sort of thing out of the general fund, so what comes to us out of the general fund is an issue,” Miss Altemus said.

The package would use revenue from the existing tax paid to record wills, deeds and lawsuits to retire the bonds. Republican backers of the bill say the yearly payout would be a tiny slice of a general fund budget that totals about $17 billion annually.

The governor and the plan’s Republican supporters have been dueling for about two weeks for public support heading into a one-day April 4 legislative session and a showdown over Mr. Kaine’s amendments. The outcome could influence November’s elections for all 140 House and Senate seats, particularly in the vote-rich swing region of Northern Virginia, as Democrats look to erode or end the Republicans’ majority.

Mr. Kaine’s public-relations road trip is due in southwestern Virginia today, where it intersects with a House Republican effort to counter his message with a 10:15 a.m. press conference at the Old Hillsville Courthouse. Mr. Kaine already had scheduled a transportation-related community forum just two miles away for 11 a.m. at Hillsville’s Fairview Presbyterian Church.

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