- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s various responses to the compromise transportation package just passed by the General Assembly — at first ignoring it, then petulantly denouncing it in the final days of the session — seems to have achieved the impossible: uniting virtually all General Assembly Republicans in favor of a transportation bill that does not include statewide tax increases. The Republican transportation package includes regional fees and taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that would have to be approved by local officials, state borrowing of more than $2 billion and a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees. Mr. Kaine and the overwhelming majority of General Assembly Democrats who opposed the bill accuse the Republicans of damaging essential state services by taking money out of the state’s general fund to pay for the transportation projects; Republicans counter with figures showing that the money constitutes less than 1 percent of the general fund.

For now it appears that Mr. Kaine has achieved what was thought to be politically impossible when the General Assembly convened in January: ending the bitter intraparty Republican divisions which had existed since early 2004, when then Gov. Mark Warner, with strong support from then-Lt. Gov. Kaine, persuaded 17 House Republicans to join the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans in voting for a package of tax increases for transportation. All of that has been turned on its head. Sen. John Chichester, the chamber’s most tenacious advocate of tax increases, was able to persuade only one other Republican to join him last week in opposing the compromise, while one-time Chichester allies like Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch have joined with House Republicans to oppose the governor’s efforts to ram through statewide tax increases. To be sure, like all compromises, the measure approved by the General Assembly last week is hardly perfect. We’re not enthusiastic about the additional state borrowing, or with the fact that the legislature continues to recoil from making long-overdue reforms in the state’s methods of allocating monies for roads, which remain skewed in favor of sparsely populated rural areas while shortchanging regions like Northern Virginia. The legislation also entails some difficult choices for voters in Northern Virginia jurisdictions who will have to decide whether they are prepared to increase their own taxes to pay for transportation improvements. But it avoids the large-scale statewide tax increases advocated by the Democrats.

The most irresponsible thing irresponsible thing people can do is take the approach favored Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly, who’s kicking and stomping his feet over the possibility that responsibility for new secondary roads will be transferred to localities. Mr. Connolly is wrong, and his dump-your-problems-on Richmond approach to problem-solving tells us that Fairfax County residents should consider a political housecleaning when they go to the polls. If Mr. Connolly finds road maintenance to be beneath him (or too overwhelming), perhaps he should seek a new line of work.

But it would be a mistake to count out Mr. Kaine, who last week began crisscrossing Virginia in an effort to mobilize opposition to the Republican plan. Between now and April 4, when the Senate reconvenes for a one-day session, the governor will try to rewrite the bill by adding his own amendments (including, we suspect, some statewide tax increases) in an effort to recast the Republicans as the bad guys.

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