Thursday, December 24, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Wednesday that a 1 percentage point increase in the state’s income tax that he has proposed in his final weeks in office is the most responsible way to make up a nearly $2 billion shortfall in the state’s finances.

“I think the only other alternatives are draconian cuts that would squander Virginia’s leadership position or kind of gimmicky ‘Let’s take a bunch of money out of the retirement fund’ or ‘Let’s pull out the credit card and borrow a bunch of money.’ But I think that would threaten our AAA bond rating,” Mr. Kaine told The Washington Times in an interview at the governor’s mansion.

Mr. Kaine said the budget he is handing off to Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, is one he would have drafted for his own administration or for the Democratic candidate, if state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds had won the November gubernatorial election. Mr. McDonnell has said that he will not impose new taxes, and while Mr. Kaine said he respects the budget process, he also said he thinks there is no way around the tax increase.

“I cut $7 billion, and then I cut $2.3 billion in the last round, but I realized for the last $1.8 billion I thought cutting would hurt Virginia. It would hurt our AAA [rating]; it would hurt our leadership position,” he said.

A relaxed Mr. Kaine, wearing a sport jacket, blue jeans and an open-collared shirt, ticked off the accomplishments of his four years in office that will come to an end when Mr. McDonnell is sworn in as Virginia governor on Jan. 16.

“I feel like I’m putting the keys of the state in the hands of my successor, and I’m able to say ‘AAA, best managed, best state for business, we’re the best state for children to be raised in. We’re the leading state in the United States’ and I’m handing it over to the next governor,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kaine said he did not complete the agenda he set for himself when he took office.

His administration lacks a signature legislative accomplishment similar to that of his predecessor, Mark R. Warner, who ushered a $1.38 billion tax increase through the General Assembly in 2004. Mr. Kaine’s own multibillion tax package to fund transportation collapsed in 2007. The plan involved regional taxing authorities, which were deemed unconstitutional, and the so-called “abuser fees” on bad drivers, which proved overwhelmingly unpopular.

But Mr. Kaine said he effectively guided the state through an unforeseen national economic downturn and lived up to the “audacious motto” he chose upon taking office: “Virginia Leading the Way.

He pointed out that he enticed five Fortune 500 companies to relocate to the state, maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates and one of the highest median incomes, achieved high student test scores and brought to Virginia a new relevance in national politics.

With President Obama’s victory last year in Virginia, Mr. Kaine said it is assured that “neither party will take Virginia for granted now for the next couple of decades.”

Before Mr. Obama’s win, a candidate could ignore the state and then upon taking office see no reason to cater to Virginians. He said that has changed.

For a variety of reasons, including his tenure as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Kaine said he has been welcomed in the room when important talks that impact the state’s future have taken place.

And it was the election of Mr. Obama that provided Mr. Kaine his happiest moment as governor.

“My happiest day in the last four years,” he said of Election Day 2008.

It was not just because he is a proud Democrat, but because Mr. Kaine said his goal in moving to Virginia was to be with his fiancee and become a civil rights lawyer, and it was rewarding to find himself playing a role in the historic campaign.

“You just don’t get moments like that in life a lot,” Mr. Kaine said.

It is also thanks to Mr. Obama that the governor has been doing double duty this year, serving as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee as he finishes his term.

“It’s worked out fine. The citizens have treated me fine about it. I’ve gotten a push from Republican legislators,” he said.

He said he has faced a challenge working both jobs at once, but the president’s request was one that neither he nor his family felt they could ignore.

“The work part has been the hardest year of my life in terms of just the sheer volume of work,” he said.

Mr. Kaine, who acknowledged that he was among the finalists for the vice presidential nomination but said Mr. Obama made the right choice in Joseph R. Biden Jr., said he has no desire to be president. Asked if he would consider running for governor again, Mr. Kaine didn’t rule it out but said he doesn’t see another election in his future.

“I think the office of the governor of Virginia is the highest office I would run for. That means my public service career is going to just take another direction,” he said.

Mr. Kaine praised Mr. McDonnell for the campaign he ran and while he stopped short of criticizing Mr. Deeds’ campaign, he said the Democrat acted on bad advice.

“I saw it coming as soon as the primary was over,” Mr. Kaine said about the Democrat’s eventual defeat. Mr. Kaine said Mr. Deeds ran a great primary campaign but “his advisers told him to switch his campaign from what he did in the primary.”

“I think they gave him bad advice,” he said.

“I was very involved. I was extremely involved in trying to convince them from the first poll I saw, trying to convince them to do otherwise,” Mr. Kaine said, adding that it was now “water under the bridge.”

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