- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lawmakers trying to solve Virginia’s transportation crisis during a special session that resumes this week are weighing tax proposals that members of both parties say could impact future elections.

“I’m concerned about every single vote I take,” said Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, a Bath Democrat running for governor next year. “But I don’t get elected to dodge issues.”

After a two-week recess, the General Assembly will reconvene in Richmond on Wednesday for a special session called by Gov. Tim Kaine to fund transportation projects.

Progress at the session, which began June 23, has so far been limited. The powerful House Rules Committee last month killed a plan by Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, to raise $1 billion in taxes to help maintain roads throughout the state, increase investments in rail transit and ease congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

The stalemate between funding philosophies in the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate also has led to accusations of political maneuvering in preparation for upcoming elections.

The House is expected to kill a funding proposal by Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, that calls for a gradual 6-cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax - but only after forcing Democrats in the chamber to consider the bill.

A vote in favor of the measure, which passed the Senate 21-16, could prove risky at a time of record gas prices and as lawmakers seek re-election next year.

“There’s no question that the Republican leadership in the House has played political games with which bills they’re sending to the floor and which ones they’re not,” said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for House Democratic Caucus Leader Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, who also is running for governor.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said lawmakers’ stances on the gas tax increase are likely to come up in future elections.

“I think it’s going to be used for sure,” said Mr. Frederick, ofPrince William. “If gas prices continue to skyrocket and people are continuing to be very concerned about the skyrocketing gas prices, you’re definitely going to see those people that are advertising for gas-tax hikes be held to account for that.”

Republicans may face their own dilemma. The House also is expected to consider a proposal providing transportation funding for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads through state and local funds, fees and taxes.

The plan modifies a package ruled unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court last year.

But Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Fairfax Republican running for attorney general next year, said members of his party who vote for the proposal could face criticism similar to 2004, when some Republicans supported a $1.4 billion tax increase by Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.

“I think it could be very significant,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “I’m very concerned that the Republican tax bill will pass, further enraging our already-dispirited base over what they will perceive as an abandonment of Republican principles - again.”

The session is scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

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