Kaine Left Wanting as Va. Budget Approved

By Michael D. Shear and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 29, 2006

RICHMOND, June 28 -- The 2006 General Assembly gave final approval to the state budget and went home Wednesday, leaving behind a first-year governor who presided over the worst stalemate in the legislature's history while failing to make good on his promise to ease traffic congestion for Virginians.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) confronted an issue that has bedeviled state leaders for two decades: how to finance billions of dollars in road and transit construction. His plan for tax increases to finance those improvements, presented six days into his term, stalled after he misread the resolve of his adversaries and overestimated public pressure for improvements.

He had mixed success with his other major initiative, an ambitious push to adopt new tools to slow growth. Efforts to help localities study the impact of development on traffic passed. But he failed to win passage of his boldest proposal, a new law letting local government turn down development if nearby roads are inadequate.

By pushing for the higher taxes, he also prompted the state's worst budget stalemate, which ended four days shy of a deadline that threatened to shut down the government and cause a constitutional crisis.

"There's a lot of people who have been around a long time who were surprised he attempted to tackle this elephant in his first session," said Michael Toalson, the chief lobbyist for the Homebuilders Association of Virginia. "Most successful governors just try to survive their first session."

The legislature concluded its budget work during a rancorous session Wednesday in which the Republicans, who control the House and Senate, rejected most of Kaine's final amendments to the two-year budget, then headed home for the summer.

Kaine said he was puzzled by the rejections but hailed record state spending on education, the environment and colleges.

"It's a great budget for the environment and the Chesapeake Bay," Kaine said after lawmakers finished. "It's a great budget for higher ed. It's a great budget for K-12. It's a great budget for those with disabilities."

But even as legislators gave final approval to the $72 billion spending plan, they agreed to return to Richmond, possibly in September, for a last-ditch attempt at reaching a deal that would implement Kaine's tax plan for transportation improvements.

Doing that would help to salvage for Kaine a rookie year that lobbyists, lawmakers and political observers say was remarkably ambitious. Another failure would increase the pressure on the governor to find a marquee success during his remaining three years.

For Kaine, that could mean making good on his other promises: to provide all 4-year-olds with the opportunity to go to preschool, protect thousands of acres of open space, tackle sprawl and limit homeowner taxes.

Kaine's supporters credit him for raising the transportation funding issue to a new level and blame House Republicans, who were still smarting from their failure two years ago to stop a tax increase pushed by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

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