- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

RICHMOND - Republican legislators pressed Virginia’s transportation secretary yesterday on why Gov. Tim Kaine’s transportation-funding proposal does not include more public-private partnerships.

Republicans on the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability raised the issue hours after Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, pitched his package of tax and fee increases to business leaders at a Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The General Assembly will convene for a special session on June 23 to consider the governor’s plan for raising $1 billion a year for statewide highway maintenance and projects in the traffic-choked Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions.

House Republicans have denounced the Kaine plan but have offered few specifics on how to increase private investment.

The key points of the Kaine plan include increasing the vehicle-registration fee by $10, increasing the sales tax on vehicles from 3 percent to 4 percent, increasing a tax paid by home sellers from 10 cents to 25 cents per $100 and increasing the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to pay for regional projects.

Delegate Chris Saxman, Staunton Republican, asked state Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer how Mr. Kaine’s plan could be modified to seek more private money.

Mr. Homer said private partners need to know that Virginia will keep its end of a financial deals. He also said existing public-private projects, such as toll roads, will continue to move forward.

Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said public-private partnerships “could be part of the mix, but not the totality.”

He also said that Mr. Kaine’s proposal is on the table and that the governor is willing to listen if legislators have ideas they think would improve it.

Mr. Kaine delivered the same message at the Chamber of Commerce meeting, urging business leaders to call their legislators and work toward a solution rather than just rejecting the tax and fee increases.

“The real issue is: Are Virginians free-lunchers?” he said. “Are we going to say we want stuff and not pay for it?”

The governor also said the Assembly did nothing significant for transportation during regular and special sessions in 2006.

State lawmakers last year finally passed a plan, but it has been largely dismantled. They repealed a package of stiff “abusive driver” fees after public outcry that the fees did not apply to out-of-state motorists. And the Virginia Supreme Court struck down regional funding plans.

Mr. Kaine does not support a proposal to alter the part of the state constitutional that doomed the regional plans. The change would allow the local governments of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise taxes.

“That’s ducking responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Kaine also said he would have a difficult time accepting a plan that affects only the two regions and does nothing to address a statewide, $375 million deficit in highway-maintenance funding.

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