- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

RICHMOND — Republican backers of a legislative package of transportation reforms said their first discussion about the bill with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday left them hopeful that it could become law this year.

Seven House and Senate Republican leaders spent about an hour in what they called constructive discussions with the governor in his office.

“I think the governor understands this is the one shot at a transportation bill,” Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, told reporters after the meeting. “I think that’s why you’ve seen him … moderate a little bit of what he’s said the last few weeks.”

“There were no lines in the sand,” said Sen. Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, did not address reporters, but his spokesman, Kevin Hall, also characterized the meetings as genial and productive.

The Republicans found broad agreement with Mr. Kaine on amendments that would be necessary to fix technical flaws in the bill that Republican delegates and senators assembled over several weeks. A final compromise, reached behind closed doors in the final days of the legislative session, was presented to the House and Senate on Feb. 24, hours before it passed.

Both parties have much vested politically in what would be the most substantial investment in the state’s roads system since 1986. Chronic traffic gridlock, particularly in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, has many voters restive heading into the November elections for all 140 House and Senate seats.

Use of general state operating funds normally devoted to schools, public safety and health care remains as the sharpest — and perhaps most intractable — difference between Mr. Kaine and the bill’s Republican backers.

Mr. Kaine has voiced misgivings about committing up to $184 million annually to pay off $2.5 billion in bonds to maintain interstate highways and primary traffic arteries statewide.

Backers of the bill note that Virginia has dipped into the general fund for transportation often since 1990, and that the annual commitment from the existing tax paid to record wills, deeds and lawsuits amounts to only about 1 percent of the $17 billion general fund.

“We’re very committed to our general fund. We’ve already cut down on the general fund. We came down from $500 million and then to $250 [million] in these negotiations and then came down to $184 [million] finally in the bill,” said Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Scott County Republican. “We’ve already compromised on that.”

After meeting with the Republicans, Mr. Kaine huddled with Democratic legislators, who said they still oppose a detour in the general fund to finance highways.

“We’ve always stated that we should not be … placing education in competition with roads,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran of Alexandria.

Mr. Kaine has until March 26 to make his amendments to the bill.

Legislators return to Richmond for a one-day session April 4 to accept or reject Mr. Kaine’s changes. If the changes are rejected wholesale, Mr. Kaine has the authority to veto the bill.

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