By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008; B01
RICHMOND, June 10 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) took aim at Virginia Republicans on Thursday over the General Assembly's failure to agree on a transportation funding plan and predicted that the GOP would pay a heavy price in the 2009 state elections.
The second special legislative session on transportation in two years ended early Thursday without a bill to improve the state's highways or mass transit systems. The Republican-controlled House refused to pass a statewide tax increase to pay for transportation improvements. And the Democratic-controlled Senate responded by killing House transportation bills that didn't involve taxes, arguing that they would do little to relieve Northern Virginia's traffic problems.
In a meeting with reporters, Kaine blamed House Republicans for failing to act and used a metaphor to imply that they were digging their own political grave. "Some of these guys are really in a hole because they have been obstructionists, and the voters aren't happy with that," said Kaine, who raised $4 million last year to help the Democrats win control of the state Senate. "Every time we take this matter up, I am about solving it. I'm trying to [give them] a ladder, and they are like, 'Governor, we are going to show you; we are going to use a shovel instead.' "
House Republican leaders blamed Kaine for the failure to reach a compromise and said they are ready to take their case to voters. They accused Kaine of wasting everybody's time by pushing for a tax increase that he knew months ago had little chance of passing.
"No doubt Governor Kaine and his fellow Democrats will continue to blame Republicans for obstructionism, as was their intention from the outset," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said. "No doubt, too, they will continue to privately disparage Virginians for selfishly clinging to their hard-earned tax dollars, just as they demean regular folks for clinging to their guns and to their religion."
Griffith's reference to regular folks and their guns and religion followed a controversial remark made by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in April during the primary campaign.
The partisan warfare is likely to mean there will be no further effort to reach a consensus on transportation this year.
Kaine said the failure to act will cause a slowdown in highway construction and add to uncertainty over how the state will provide its share of funding for mass transit, including Metro and Virginia Railway Express.
Transportation officials say the state also faces a $3 billion shortfall over the next six years in that part of the budget used to maintain highways and bridges. Instead of replacing old bridges, Kaine said, the state will have look for less-permanent safety measures.
"You will likely see more weight-limit signs hung," Kaine said.
Kaine vowed to continue efforts to raise new revenue for transportation, perhaps when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
"All these guys in the House will be coming back in January with elections staring them in the face," Kaine said.
Kaine said it took the defeat of then-U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in 2006 to persuade state House and Senate Republicans to agree on a transportation plan last year. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled parts of that plan unconstitutional, leading to the special session.
House Majority Whip M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said House Republicans won't back down on the tax issue. "Tim Kaine defines solutions by tax increases," Cox said. "Bringing back a tax increase in January is a dead issue."
If a bill is not approved early next year, Kaine predicted, voters would respond in November 2009, when Virginians elect a new governor and all 100 members of the House.
As he proved last year, when Democrats won a state Senate majority, Kaine can be effective in boosting the state party.
Kaine has kept his political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward, operational even though he cannot seek reelection. The PAC doesn't have to release a detailed fundraising report until next week. But Kaine collected $100,000 from a Radford businessman in April and received at least 18 other donations of $10,000 or more since January, according to the State Board of Elections.
State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, the likely Republican candidate for governor next year, said Kaine and Democrats have made a major miscalculation if they think voters will blame the GOP for the state's transportation woes.
"We have had seven years of Democratic governors, and the only plan that passed is the Republican plan that I helped pass last year," McDonnell said.
Kaine said he is optimistic that Democrats next year can pick up the six seats needed to gain a House majority, but only a handful of Republicans, in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, represent competitive districts. And one of those Republicans, Thomas Davis Rust (Fairfax), voted with the Democrats in support of a statewide tax increase.
In the rest of the state, Republicans are confident that they have the upper hand in the tax debate. "Basically, Kaine is the high-tax governor against legislators who are protecting the taxpayers, and I am willing to fight that fight," Cox said.