Va. House Leaders Defend Roads Plan

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

RICHMOND, Feb. 21 -- House leaders defended their spending proposals Tuesday, saying the state can pay for schools and health care programs while providing more money for transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

The Republican leaders were responding to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who said Monday that the House was trying to finance road and rail improvements at the expense of other important services.

Kaine said the House's proposed state budget sliced money from several health and educational enrichment programs that were in the budget proposed by former governor Mark R. Warner (D).

The Republicans held a morning news conference to contest the governor's statements.

"Contrary to what other people may have implied, the House Republican budget increases money for education," said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). He pointed to $160 million in salary increases for teachers as evidence that the House is addressing the state's needs.

Several delegates said the House, unlike the governor and the state Senate, had proposed a budget that ensures the state will live within its means while paying for necessary services.

"You can't fund everything when you want to fund it," said Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), chairman of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, pointing out that the House proposes to fund some initiatives that the Senate would not. "This education budget is solid from top to bottom."

House Republicans also accused Kaine of misleading Virginians in last year's election when he said he would not support tax increases for traffic relief unless the state had guaranteed that its transportation trust fund would be used for no purpose other than transportation programs. Kaine has proposed a four-year, $4 billion tax package for transportation, one that Republicans say contradicts his promise to voters last fall.

Kaine said he would add a clause to any bill raising taxes for transportation that would void the measure if the money is used for other purposes. He has proposed a constitutional amendment that would lock up the transportation trust fund. A House committee tabled the bill until next year.

House Democrats also went on the offensive Tuesday, saying the GOP delegates' program would not do enough to ease traffic in the state's urban areas and would send nothing to many rural areas.

Unveiling a new strategy to hammer the Republican plan, Democrats from rural regions said the House plan provides no new transportation construction money to much of the state outside the two highly congested areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

"I cannot stand by and not speak out for millions of constituents in this state that will not benefit from the transportation package put forward by the House," said Del. Clarence E. "Bud" Phillips (D-Dickenson). During a floor speech, he accused House Republicans of failing to include funding increases for several rural areas that need roads widened and other initiatives.

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