- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

RICHMOND | A House committee Thursday rejected Gov. Tim Kaine‘s $1 billion transportation package before the entire General Assembly left the Capitol for a two-week break.

On a largely party-line 11-4 vote, the Republican majority of the House Rules Committee refused to put the bill by Mr. Kaine, Democrat, before the full House.

The committee advanced a gasoline-tax proposal by the Democratic-controlled Senate. The House’s Republican majority will likely kill the bill, but not before forcing Democrats to take a politically-difficult vote.

Republican bills to increase fees and taxes for new road projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia and to fund transportation through offshore oil and gas lease royalties also cleared the committee.

However, Mr. Kaine’s bill was the legislative centerpiece of the second special legislative session in two years devoted to highway, rail and transit funding.

Democrats and Republicans were far apart Monday when the session opened, and dismay and division have only deepened since. Because of travel and vacation commitments lawmakers could not or would not alter, the full House and Senate will not reconvene again until July 9.

“Got to go to a wedding? OK, I get that. Booked a flight to Europe? I can understand that. But I can’t believe that there is not an immediate date where we can’t get a critical mass,” said Sen. Thomas K. Norment, James City Republican.

Mr. Kaine and the Senate’s Democratic majority are demanding substantial statewide funding to maintain the state’s web of aging roads and bridges.

The governor’s bill would have increased taxes on car and real-estate sales and boosted annual vehicle registration fees by $10. Regionally, it boosted sales taxes in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

A bill by Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat - besides increasing gasoline taxes 6 cents a gallon by 2014 - would increase taxes on car sales by a half percent and raise the state share of the sales tax by quarter of a cent statewide.

It prescribes an additional quarter of a cent in sales taxes for the two urban regions. The Senate passed it on a party-line 21-16 vote Wednesday.

Either Democratic measure would generate about $1 billion a year.

House Republican leaders flatly reject new statewide taxes and insist on limiting the session to money for construction projects that ease highway gridlock in the state’s fastest-growing and most populous regions.

Mr. Kaine was in the middle of his live monthly radio show Thursday morning when he learned his bill had just been killed. The action, he said, was “not unexpected.”

Since Mr. Kaine’s bill was never introduced in the Senate, the administration plan is dead.

Mr. Kaine’s only long-shot options for salvaging statewide road maintenance funding are to amend a surviving bill or accept a gasoline tax increase. He said Thursday he would not veto a gas tax increase should one pass the House, but would not say whether he would sign one into law.

Mr. Kaine’s bill died in a committee meeting where partisan resentments were conspicuous.

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