Va. Leaders Push Increase In Taxes, Fees To Aid Roads

By Michael D. Shear and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 21, 2006

RICHMOND, Jan. 20 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and a bipartisan group of state senators offered competing proposals Friday to raise taxes and fees, with each plan generating close to $4 billion by 2010, to relieve the state's congested transportation network.

Accepting the political dangers of proposing Virginia's second major tax increase in two years, Kaine is seeking higher taxes on auto insurance and the purchase of a car as well as stiffer fees for car registration and driving offenses.

With nearly $1 billion more to spend each year, the new governor said, he can double the state's support for mass transit, increase highway construction by 90 percent and revive stalled road projects.

The money would help build a connected network of carpool or express toll lanes on all of Northern Virginia's major highways, buy rail cars for Virginia Railway Express and Metro, widen Interstates 95 and 66, and fix traffic bottlenecks.

"We don't need any more studies. We don't need an extended session," Kaine told reporters Friday afternoon. "If we do this, if we have the courage to do this, we can fix the problems that have bedeviled us for a decade."

The senators also proposed to increase the sales tax on cars. They want a new sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level that probably would be passed on to consumers. Drivers pay 17.5 cents per gallon in state gas taxes.

"We must have a dedicated and sustainable revenue source for transportation," said Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland). "We cannot cure transportation by draining the lifeblood from public and higher education, health care and public safety."

Chichester said Virginia's transportation system has moved from "life support to code red." Without investments, commuters will remain stuck in traffic, businesses will fail to move their goods and the quality of life in Virginia will decline, the senators said.

On Monday, Kaine proposed that local governments receive new authority to limit growth to help them ease traffic congestion. That proposal drew immediate protests from home builders, real estate agents and developers, who visited legislators Tuesday.

Kaine sought to rebut that criticism Friday, saying: "This will not cause the death of the housing industry. . . . People are not going to live in tents."

Kaine's proposals to fund transportation projects prompted new protests, this time from Republicans in the House and lobbyists for the auto dealers.

"It's very hard to justify a tax increase to the general public when we just went through one two years ago," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). "And then we've had massive surpluses in the years since. It's going to be a hard sell."

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