- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gov. Tim Kaine will call a special session of the General Assembly to resolve Virginia’s ongoing transportation funding problems, but only if it appears lawmakers are close to a deal.

“A special session costs $20,000 a day and we do have economic issues,” said Gordon Hickey, Mr. Kaine’s spokesman. “He is not going to call a special session until he knows the lion’s share of a deal has been worked out.”

The General Assembly adjourned last week after passing a $77 billion two-year state budget. Legislative leaders continue to negotiate transportation issues and could be called into a special session to vote on a deal when they reconvene April 23 for a regularly scheduled veto session.

An alternative source for transportation funding became necessary when the state Supreme Court on Feb. 29 struck down a funding mechanism that gave regional taxing powers to the unelected Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and a similar body in Hampton Roads. The plan, passed by the General Assembly last year, was expected to raise $1 billion annually — about half of which was expected to come from the regional taxes.

Although legislators agree the revenue must be replaced, it is not clear when or how the process will unfold.

“I think that the Senate Democrats and the House Republican leaders are going to lock horns, and I am not sure if either side is not going to give,” said Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican.

Another lawmaker from Fairfax County is pushing to salvage the regional transportation plan.

“We have a plan where the commonwealth of Virginia imposes part of the fees for transportation and local governments impose part of them,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican.

Under Mr. Albo’s plan, the seven cities and counties represented by the transportation authority could impose local taxes on car rentals and hotel stays. They also could assess a tax — 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — on home sales. The state would be responsible for imposing a $10 vehicle inspection fee and an annual $10 license fee in Northern Virginia.

House Democrats say any regional fix must include a new source of statewide revenue for road maintenance, especially after a repeal of the unpopular package of “abuser fees” — fines imposed on habitually bad Virginia drivers that were estimated to raise $65 million for road repairs.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said the state will have no money for new road projects by 2015 if it continues to siphon money from construction to pay for maintenance.

He suggested a two-pronged approach last month that included a regional fix similar to Mr. Albo’s proposal and a statewide road maintenance plan. The statewide component called for a 3 percent increase in the wholesale gas tax over the next three years and a half-percent increase on the titling tax charged on cars.

Fully implemented, the statewide plan would produce about $550 million a year for road maintenance.

Republicans rejected Mr. Saslaw’s plan.

“Injecting issues unrelated to the ‘regional fix’ necessitated by the court’s decision will deny the benefits of those previously approved regional solutions to commuters, families and businesses in our commonwealth”s fastest-growing regions,” Republican leaders said in a March 7 letter from House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, and Delegate Samuel A. Nixon Jr., Chesterfield Republican.

Republicans oppose statewide tax increases for road maintenance and say regional plans should take priority.

“Here is why the statewide taxes won’t pass — because, as one delegate told me, ‘Why would I vote for a statewide tax increase when my roads are empty?’ ” Mr. Albo said.

Mr. Cuccinelli said both proposals are flawed and that the plan should be redesigned.

“To continue pouring money in such as a system is to light fire to money,” he said.

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