House Panel In Va. Kills Tax Increase To Aid Roads

By Amy Gardner and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

RICHMOND, Sept. 26 -- A panel of lawmakers on Tuesday defeated Northern Virginia's key proposal to improve the region's roads and transit system, dimming hopes that the General Assembly will agree on significant transportation relief during a three-day special session that begins Wednesday.

The House Finance Committee rejected 17 to 5 a plan that Northern Virginia political, business and civic leaders have promoted as the only means of ensuring lasting improvements to ease the state's growing traffic problems. Under the proposal, pared recently to improve its chances of passage, $414 million a year would have been raised and spent in Northern Virginia and the state's other traffic-clogged region, Hampton Roads.

But a decisive majority of lawmakers on the committee -- including six from Fairfax and Prince William counties -- voted against raising taxes to finance the plan, most of them saying the state can pay for roads through existing revenue or bond sales.

"I find it interesting that so many people think the only way to solve the transportation problem is to raise taxes," said Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William). "They say they are not going to dedicate any more money for roads unless it comes from a tax increase. That's silly."

The panel's action could set the tone for the session, whose sole purpose is to solve Virginia's traffic problems. Although advocates said a compromise is possible by week's end, the committee's vote signals that the Republicans who control the House of Delegates have not softened in their opposition to tax increases.

"This is Round One," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), a leading supporter of the proposal. "I'm hoping that by Friday, something between [my bill] and the Republican leadership position survives."

The lawmakers are returning for a rare fall session because they failed to come up with a transportation plan earlier this year. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Senate leaders had agreed on a statewide tax increase to pay for more roads, but House Republican leaders blocked the plan, saying voters did not want more taxes. The disagreement over whether to raise taxes delayed agreement on the state budget for more than three months.

One proposal did survive Tuesday. The House Appropriations Committee approved a plan that would generate $2.4 billion over six years with existing revenue and bond debt but no tax increase. A proposed $1.5 billion bond issue would need voter approval in the November 2007 election.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Kaine, said: "It's disappointing that the House majority is refusing to consider new revenue for our obvious transportation challenges. Their answer appears to be borrowing and diverting money from public schools, colleges, public safety and public health. That is no way to pay for a 21st-century transportation network."

The six Northern Virginia lawmakers who opposed the tax proposal for their area were Frederick, C. Charles Caputo (D-Fairfax), Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), Robert D. Hull (R-Fairfax), L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) and Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax).

The three Republicans have said publicly that they oppose new taxes for roads. Not so the three Democrats. Shannon said he had been prepared to vote for Albo's proposal, except for a provision to divert $167 million from schools, health care and public safety to roads.

"What I don't want to do is raid money we spend on core government services," Shannon said.

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