- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday released his rewrite of the General Assembly’s transportation package, which funnels millions annually into road-and-rail improvements across Virginia but does not include the statewide tax increase that Republican lawmakers opposed.

The plan by Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, works within the framework of the proposal approved last month by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and instead relies on long-term borrowing, regional taxing authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the state surplus, new fees on habitually bad drivers and a $10 increase on vehicle registration fees.

However, his plan includes some significant changes that state lawmakers can accept or reject during a one-day session on April 4. If the lawmakers approve the changes, the money could be used for road projects by next year. The plan could generate as much as $1 billion annually.

“Face it, over the last 15 months, I have not talked about much else other than transportation, and I’ve looked at this package from a lot of different angles and I feel very, very good about it,” Mr. Kaine said, flanked by local officials from across Virginia. “You’re talking about a sizable step forward for transportation.”

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said the governor’s decision to end his insistence upon “massive statewide tax increases” is a “very positive” development.

“The fact that, for the first time, he has demonstrated a commitment to a judicious use of the Commonwealth’s AAA bond rating is certainly welcome news to those of us who have advocated this reasonable and widely accepted approach for many years,” Mr. Howell said.

Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, echoed Mr. Howell’s sentiment, saying the plan appears to stick to the “key tenets of no statewide tax increase.”

“We’re happy,” Mr. Cox said. “I think, all and all, it is very positive.”

The governor’s plan brings Republicans and Democrats closer on the issue than they have been in years and would represent the largest reform of transportation funding since 1986.

“The leadership has indicated in both houses that they are supportive and that they will encourage their caucus members to be supportive as well,” Mr. Kaine said, stopping short of saying this is a done deal.

The governor’s plan would increase the legislature’s proposed $2.5 billion bond package to $3 billion and pay off the bonds over 25 years with the existing tax on car insurance premiums. It also increases the amount of money dedicated to mass transit from 15.7 percent to 20 percent.

Mr. Kaine also is pushing lawmakers to use two-thirds of annual state surplus, rather than half of the surplus lawmakers included in the plan they approved in late February.

Under the Northern Virginia regional plan, cities and towns could raise $400 million annually through a mixture of fees and taxes, including a car-rental and auto-repairs tax.

The governor took the advice of local officials and tweaked the plan so Northern Virginia jurisdictions would have the option, rather than be forced, into raising the commercial real-estate tax up to 25 cents for local road projects. He also wanted to give them the option of imposing commercial and residential impact fees.

“This isn’t a perfect bill,” said Mr. Kaine, who had considered vetoing the legislation. “It wasn’t perfect when I got it, and it’s still not perfect. … If it was just me in a room drafting it, I would have done it a bit differently. [Mr. Howell] and I finished a phone call just a few minutes before I came in. We each were trying to win sympathy from the other by telling each other what we still didn’t like about it, but it is a deal I can very sincerely say is a bill that is significantly improved.”

Although some Democrats had hoped Republicans would not have anything to show voters in the fall election, Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat, said it looks as if, this year, transportation “as an issue trumped politics.”

“If you’re looking at it for purely political terms, the Democrats should not have cut any deal,” Mr. Connolly said. “But quite frankly, a number of us in local government and state government decided we didn’t want to play politics.”

When asked after the midafternoon press conference why he did not appear to be overjoyed, Mr. Kaine said that between the telephone calls and meetings about transportation the past several weeks, he was exhausted.

“I might have a soda tonight or something a little stiffer to drink,” he said.

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