Kaine Takes GOP to Task For Blocking Tax Increase

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

RICHMOND, Nov. 5 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine used a speech to a major business group Tuesday to excoriate senior Republicans in the House of Delegates for blocking tax increases for road and rail construction.

In the speech, Kaine (D) hinted that he has not given up on his proposal for a $1 billion a year increase in taxes and fees to support transportation and might reintroduce the plan during the legislative session that begins Jan. 10. He also made it clear that he will work during next year's election to defeat lawmakers who oppose it.

"If we are going to make progress on transportation, I have got to have partners in the General Assembly who will commit to finding long-term, sustainable revenue," Kaine told members of the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education, a bipartisan group of business leaders from across the state that supports higher taxes for roads. "I have to."

Kaine did not mention any House lawmakers by name, but he left little doubt that he was talking about House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and other senior Republican delegates, who spent most of 2006 successfully stopping Kaine and his allies from raising taxes.

The comments were a preview of the harsh rhetoric that both sides expect next year as all 140 members of the legislature campaign for reelection. Kaine said his opponents in the transportation fight either "don't understand economics" or are deliberately "trying to put a line over on" the people of Virginia.

"We cannot allow people to stand up and say with a straight face that they are serious about solving the transportation system of this commonwealth . . . and let it go unchallenged that they opposed our efforts to move out of the bottom," the governor said.

Howell was out of the state at a legislative conference Tuesday and could not be reached to comment. House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) shot back at Kaine, accusing him of abandoning any real effort to find compromise.

"After having indicated that he would work for success in the special session, he then disappeared," Griffith said, referring to the transportation session lawmakers held in September that ended in failure. "If anybody is being obstructionist, I would have to say it's the ghost governor, by not participating."

Griffith accused Kaine of putting election-year victories ahead of finding compromise on the tough issue of transportation funding. He warned Kaine not to simply propose the same plan that was blocked by lawmakers in the regular session this year.

"He must have had a touch of amnesia and forgotten what's transpired in the last nine months," Griffith said. "If he's not just playing party politics, he'll put some new proposals on the table and work toward their passage."

Kaine's comments were warmly received by the business group, which has aggressively pushed for new transportation money.

In its annual ratings of lawmakers, which were released Tuesday, the group chastised the legislature for failing to reach accord on road money and for failing to finish a budget until just before the end of the fiscal year in June.

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