Va. Traffic 'Abuser Fees' Spur Backlash

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

RICHMOND, June 26 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and legislative leaders sought to respond Tuesday to a growing backlash over plans to make some Virginia drivers pay hefty surcharges on traffic tickets to finance road improvements.

Starting Sunday, Virginia will assess a so-called "abuser fee" on traffic offenses committed by habitually bad drivers as well as any resident convicted of a misdemeanor or felony driving offense. A charge of reckless driving, for example, would cost $1,050.

The fees were tucked into the $1 billion-a-year transportation bill approved by the General Assembly and signed by Kaine (D) this spring. They were intended to be a partial substitute to a statewide tax increase, which the Republican-controlled House opposed.

Speaking Tuesday on WTOP radio, Kaine said the fees will allow the state to ease gridlock while encouraging motorists to drive responsibly.

"I don't have the ability to give driving instructions to 7 1/2 million Virginians, but hopefully the prospect of stiff fines will make people drive right," said Kaine, who has been pushing for the fees since taking office last year.

But several callers to WTOP's monthly "Ask the Governor" program said the fees are so steep they will consider moving to Maryland. Virginia has long been considered the lower-tax alternative to the Free State.

"It looks like it is going to place an additional, pretty stiff burden, especially on some of the poorer drivers in the state of Virginia," a caller from Centreville told the governor. "What is your view of Virginia drivers changing their residence to Maryland or some other state to try to get around this?"

Since the Virginia Supreme Court published an analysis of the "civil remediation fees" this month, the blogosphere and talk radio have been buzzing.

"I've had people from all around the state calling and yelling at me," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), one of architects of the plan to assess the fees, which will eventually raise $65 million a year for transportation projects.

The mini-revolt over the fees underscores how the public is only starting to fully examine the details of the transportation deal, a compromise that ended 18 months of partisan bickering. House leaders refused to consider a statewide increase in the gasoline tax or sales tax on the purchase of a vehicle. Legislative leaders and Kaine instead agreed on a series of higher fees as well as regional tax increases.

"Finding various fees from different sources that were not a general tax increase was the only kind of transportation plan that could survive the General Assembly this session," said Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax).

But legislators, who are up for reelection Nov. 6, are getting an earful.

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