- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

CHANTILLY — Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday said he will offer amendments to the Republican-driven transportation deal next week, signaling a closing of a debate that will likely shape the state’s elections this fall.

“I’m trying to close the deal,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, told more than 100 attendees gathered for a Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting. “I’ll sign a great bill. I’ll sign a good bill. I’ll sign a modest bill. But I won’t sign a bill that I think does harm.” Though the Republican-controlled General Assembly has put hundreds of measures on Mr. Kaine’s desk, a top priority continues to be strengthening the transportation package.

“The amendments that I will announce, likely on Monday … won’t be amendments to kill the deal,” Mr. Kaine told reporters after his speech. “They will be amendments to make a deal.”

Once the General Assembly receives the revisions, lawmakers will have 10 days to consider them. Then they will return to Richmond on April 4 for a one-day legislative session to debate the revisions.

Right now, the plan relies on $2.5 billion in bonds, $185 million a year in general operating funds, some of the state’s surplus and regional taxing authorities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Mr. Kaine opposes paying the state’s debt with money from the general fund, which primarily pays for schools, police and social services. He also has legal concerns about charging repeat driving offenders larger fines and wants to reduce or eliminate the option for Northern Virginia localities to increase the commercial real estate tax.

For Republicans, the transportation package has, at least temporarily, ended the schism between their anti-tax House members and centrists in the Senate. The two sides battled for years over the best way to pay for updating the state’s aging transportation system.

The new deal also has shifted political pressure onto Mr. Kaine, whom Republicans say could fulfill his 2005 campaign promise of fixing transportation by supporting the deal.

The governor yesterday said since Republicans steered the plan through the General Assembly last month, the political pressure has eased.

Still, Republicans have made it clear they do not want a major rewrite of their bill and oppose statewide tax increases such as raising the gas tax, he said.

Mr. Kaine hinted House Republicans may be willing to consider increasing other fees similar to the $10 car-registration fee increase they already included in their plan.

“They’ve accepted statewide fees, but statewide taxes they don’t want to impose,” he said. “I’m reading those tea leaves as I am reading this bill and trying to fix it.”

State Delegate Thomas Davis Rust, Fairfax County Republican, said if the governor and General Assembly fail to reach a compromise on transportation, people can expect a lot of finger pointing in the coming elections.

“We’ll all be blaming the other side and each other and the governor, and he’ll be blaming us,” he said. “It will be a mess out there this fall. Everybody will be blaming everybody and unfortunately Virginia will be the loser.”

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, said Mr. Kaine is in a “tough spot.”

“Its very difficult situation,” Mr. Wilder said. “The underlying thing for the governor is that he inherited much of what should have been accomplished before he came into office. I think having said that, the public has short memory. They say, ‘What are you going to do for me now?’ ”

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