Partisan Bickering Stalls Va. Roads Bill

"We are not down here in a special session to play games to the tune of the puppet-master Kaine," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem).
"We are not down here in a special session to play games to the tune of the puppet-master Kaine," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Anita Kumar and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 10, 2008

RICHMOND, July 9 -- The General Assembly's special session on transportation was headed for an unsuccessful close Wednesday evening with no agreement on how to pay for millions of dollars of road and transit projects across the state including the most congested area of Northern Virginia.

Frustrated legislators spent the day embroiled in name-calling and parliamentary maneuvers as Republicans and Democrats tried to blame each other for the session's failures.

"We should be ashamed of ourselves," House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry) said on the House floor. "Are we proud of what we are doing? . . . This is silly. This is gamesmanship."

The failed special session, the second on transportation since 2006, caps an effort to address one of the state's most pressing issues. Officials estimate that the state will face about a $3 billion shortfall over the next six years in the part of the budget used to maintain highways and bridges and that most of that money would have to come from road-building.

It appears unlikely that an agreement will be reached until leadership changes in the Governor's Mansion or General Assembly. The issue might dominate the 2009 election campaign, when Virginians will select a governor and all 100 members of the House of Delegates

In all, three separate tax bills were considered during the session. The House of Delegates revived a proposal by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to raise $1.1 billion a year in taxes and fees, but this time his fellow Democrats helped kill it in the hopes that they could amend and pass another tax bill they preferred. After rejecting Kaine's bill, however, the House then defeated the Democratic-preferred Senate bill that would have raised additional taxes. Before killing the Senate bill, the House stripped out a provision to raise the gasoline tax. Only one Republican, Thomas Davis Rust of Fairfax, voted for the bill.

The GOP-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate are expected to consider a proposal late Wednesday that would force localities to impose taxes for road and transit projects in Northern Virginia.

"The House and Senate Democrats rose to the challenge and came together to move Virginia closer to a meaningful transportation solution," Kaine said in a statement. "But House Republican leadership, once again, stood in the way, rejecting legislation that originated in the Senate. The citizens of Virginia deserved better."

Kaine could call legislators back to Richmond again to consider transportation funding, but House Republican leaders hope the governor would not do so unless he forged a compromise first.

"A governor ought to have his plan laid out in advance. A governor ought to have support of his own party from both houses," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said. "We are not down here in a special session to play games to the tune of the puppet-master Kaine."

There was little negotiating behind the scenes before the session -- or during the two weeks since the session began.

Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) spoke by phone Wednesday morning but the two decided that they were too far apart to reach an agreement.

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