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House Is Already Rebuffing Kaine

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine urges lawmakers to pass a plan to fund transportation projects.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine urges lawmakers to pass a plan to fund transportation projects.

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By Tim Craig and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

RICHMOND, June 23 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) began a special session of the General Assembly on Monday by challenging legislators to rise above politics and enact his proposed $1 billion tax increase to ease traffic and repair the state's aging network of highways and bridges.

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In a speech to the House and Senate, Kaine said Virginia residents are willing to pay more in taxes if it means less traffic, better roads and new mass-transit options.

"Virginians, I am happy to say, are responsible people," Kaine said. "They don't demand a free lunch. Our constituents are open to a reasonable, moderate plan to raise the revenues we need."

But moments after the start of the second special session in two years on transportation, the General Assembly erupted into feuding as Democrats and Republicans jockeyed for political advantage on taxes and transportation.

While Democrats are divided over which taxes to raise, Republicans have become increasingly unified in their belief that Virginians cannot afford a larger tax burden. They are trying to return to their party's anti-tax roots. And even though Republicans lost control of the state Senate and five seats in the House of Delegates, they think that Kaine is miscalculating the public's appetite for new taxes, even for transportation needs.

More than 100 anti-tax activists rallied at the state Capitol on Monday against efforts to raise statewide taxes. The Republican Party of Virginia had sent a letter urging activists to campaign against Kaine's proposal.

Virginia's transportation troubles appeared to have been resolved at a special session in early 2007. The General Assembly passed a landmark package to pump $1.1 billion annually into transportation across Virginia. Regional authorities were poised to collect $400 million a year in Northern Virginia and $200 million in Hampton Roads.

But lawmakers repealed steep abusive-driver fees after a prolonged controversy. The fees had been estimated to bring in $65 million a year. Then the state Supreme Court ruled that the regional authorities could not constitutionally levy taxes and fees because they are not elected bodies.

Some Republican legislators say they are more adamant about opposing tax increases than in previous years because a poor economy has left residents with little extra money.

"It's just a hard time to raise taxes," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), who helped push the transportation bill through the Senate last year.

Instead of working with Kaine, Republicans in the House and Senate embraced a strategy Monday that puts the governor and the Democrats at the forefront of the tax battle.

Almost immediately after Kaine spoke, it became clear there would not be prompt action on his proposal to enact a $10 increase in annual vehicle-registration fees and a 1 percent increase in the sales tax on automobiles. The governor also wants a 1 percent increase in the sales tax in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to pay for transportation in the state's most congested areas.


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