Kaine Calls for a Compromise
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
RICHMOND, Aug. 28 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) urged lawmakers Monday to confront the state's transportation crisis at a three-day special session next month but replaced his demand for higher taxes with a call for a meaningful compromise.
Legislative leaders announced that they intend to return to the capital for three days at the end of September to resume efforts to fix the state's ailing transportation network, which Kaine characterized as Virginia's "unfinished business." The first-year governor's earlier proposal to raise taxes by $1 billion to pay for new road and transit projects froze the legislature for six months and helped bring the state to the brink of a budget crisis.
In a speech Monday to the General Assembly's money committees, Kaine again offered a laundry list of transportation projects that need more money, including improvements to Interstate 66, the Capital Beltway, Metro and Virginia Railway Express. But he conceded that the public strongly opposes the tax increases he proposed earlier.
"They are aware that solutions will cost money," Kaine said, citing recent polls of the public. "But they don't want to pay more taxes."
Instead of fighting over higher taxes -- which House leaders vehemently oppose -- Kaine urged lawmakers to focus on areas on which Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have agreed: modest increases in the amount spent on transportation, reform of the Virginia Department of Transportation and land-use changes.
"These points of agreement demonstrate a significant common ground from which we can craft a comprehensive solution," Kaine said in his 24-minute speech, a traditional appearance to update lawmakers about the state's finances. "If we do not act, it will be our people and our future that will suffer."
After his speech, Kaine said he was not giving up on efforts to find new revenue for roads, just attempting to change the tone from earlier this year, when the legislature deadlocked for months.
"A special session is not helped by setting out a series of nonnegotiable positions," Kaine said. He said neither the magnitude of the problem nor his resolve for new money for transportation had changed. But he added that "ultimate success isn't measured by a particular number."
Republicans said Kaine's speech demonstrated a sense of realism about the issue by also endorsing the idea that Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads might adopt separate plans for dealing with traffic in their regions.
"He's lowered his expectations for a statewide solution," said Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax), who has been pushing a Northern Virginia plan. "The way I read it, he's looking for user fees. I don't think we will see anything for statewide gas or sales tax increases."
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said of Kaine: "Clearly he understands there is not going to be a tax increase."
Transportation advocates, who had cheered Kaine's push at the beginning of the year for what he called a "reliable, statewide revenue source," said Monday that they were let down by the governor's new approach.