Gridlock and Hypocrisy in Virginia

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Since the Virginia General Assembly's special session ended early this month, partisan recriminations have dominated our state politics ["Political Gridlock Stalls N.Va. Road Plans," front page, July 13]. Gov. Tim Kaine continues to blast General Assembly Republicans for their unwillingness to support higher taxes in the midst of record-high gas prices, with Virginia families facing increasing challenges in an uncertain economy. But his criticisms ring hollow and carry the taint of hypocrisy.

Kaine can't be surprised about state Republicans' determination to oppose statewide tax increases. As the leader of his own party, he must have known that several Democratic legislators would join their Republican colleagues in opposing higher taxes. He should have known that his own plan, which would have distributed just 18.5 percent of highway revenue generated by higher taxes to Northern Virginia, would be rejected by legislators from that region. He should have known that Senate Democrats' insistence on higher gas taxes and House Democrats' demand for higher sales taxes amounted to a recipe for gridlock. He also should have realized that prospects for a resolution between House and Senate Democrats, as well as between Democrats and Republicans, were no better on July 9 than they were on May 12, when he called the special session.

Yet, partisan recriminations continue. For Kaine, they are necessary to deflect attention from his misguided and unprecedented decision to call a special session without any consensus. They also are required to conceal the real progress that could have been made had the governor and the Democrats dropped their insistence on increasing the state sales tax and vehicle registration fees, as well as taxes on gasoline, and home and vehicle sales.

What required resolution during the special session was repairing the regional provisions of 2007's Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act. While the centerpieces of the plan -- major land-use reforms and nearly $500 million annually in additional statewide revenue for Virginia's roads and public transit -- remain in effect, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down some of the special regional provisions for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia that Kaine wrote into the bill.

The additional revenue isn't the only transportation funding advancement in recent years. In 2005, House Republicans spearheaded an effort that resulted in $850 million in additional funds to reduce congestion. In 2006, they dedicated more than $550 million in funds for transportation. And early this year, House Republicans thwarted Kaine's plan to divert $180 million away from transportation to fund his administration's priorities and pet projects.

Even though Kaine and the Democrats obstructed progress during the special session by refusing to pass most initiatives that did not include higher taxes, Republicans were undeterred -- proposing innovative, common-sense transportation solutions.

Yet none of these proposals will become law. Senate Democrats killed most of them in committee without full, fair hearings and an opportunity for a floor vote in the Senate because they did not include a statewide tax increase. In an impressive display of candor, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Yvonne Miller (D-Norfolk) declared, "Although we want to solve the problem, we have decided that there are only certain ways we can fund it, and I think that limits us in trying to find a solution to the problem."

Republicans are not giving up. When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, we again will be championing innovative ideas to improve transportation in Virginia, offering an alternative to the outdated belief that higher taxes are the sole solution to every government challenge.

-- William J. Howell


The writer, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, represents the 28th District, which includes Fredericksburg and portions of Stafford County.

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