Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine promised yesterday to veto any new tax or fee for transportation or any increase in existing levies until at least 2009, when a constitutional amendment to lock up the state's road fund could become law.
Kaine said the only new money for roads, bridges and trains on his watch would come from budget surpluses, if they materialize, and from a transfer of existing general fund taxes that would provide about $40 million a year for Northern Virginia.
"Any tax increase or any kind of fee increase -- or if we can think of a word that's a synonym for fees -- any revenue increase that's proposed into a transportation system, a trust fund, that's not locked up and protected will be vetoed," Kaine told reporters after a speech to business leaders in Herndon.
That promise is the furthest Kaine has gone to counter accusations by his Republican opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore, that he would be a tax-and-spend governor. Kaine has also proposed allowing local governments to cut homeowner taxes by 20 percent beginning in 2009.
The veto threat reflects the continuing power of the tax issue to shape elections in Virginia in the wake of the 2004 legislative battle over taxes. That session ended after nearly six months with a budget deal to raise taxes by $1.5 billion over two years. Kaine supported that compromise. Kilgore opposed it.
Kaine's plan focuses on improving the coordination between state and local governments as they plan for new roads, homes and office buildings. Kaine said he would order his transportation secretary to recommend changes within the first 100 days of his administration.
"We're at a crisis," Kaine told a room full of business people and transportation planners at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel. The sound of clattering silverware subsided as members of the Loudoun and Greater Reston chambers of commerce and the Committee for Dulles looked up from their dessert plates and coffee to hear him roll out his transportation plan.
He told them, "2006 will be the year to begin to fix the problem."
Kaine's speech, which included a pledge to hold transportation summits across the state and find ways to partner with private companies to build roads, was well received by the audience of about 100.
"He was saying things that I think this group wanted to hear," said John M. Harris, president of a community planning organization based in Purcellville. "Our economic engine here is driving the state, and he recognizes that."
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters issued a statement thanking Kaine for offering a "bold vision to tackle these challenges [that] goes beyond just increasing transportation funding for asphalt."
Kilgore has a competing plan that includes the creation of regional transportation authorities that could hold referendums to raise taxes. Sen. H. Russell Potts (R-Winchester), who is running for governor as an independent, has said he will create a commission to develop solutions and call a special session to implement them.
Kilgore's press secretary, Tim Murtaugh, called Kaine's plan "purely a campaign smoke screen. This accomplishes nothing."
Longtime advocates for improved transportation in Northern Virginia assailed Kaine for refusing to acknowledge the need to raise more money for such projects as expanding rail to Dulles, widening the Beltway and improving Interstate 66.
John T. "Til" Hazel, a developer and frequent critic of both Kaine and Kilgore, said Kaine's pledge to veto new transportation taxes is "political baloney."
"That is such a nothing plan, it's hard for me to even think or comment," said Hazel, who is supporting Potts. "That's as bad as Kilgore saying we are going to have a bunch of regional authorities. What . . . do you need a governor for if you are going to do that?"
Michael Anzilotti, co-chairman of the transportation committee for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said Kaine is "not owning up to the problem" of traffic congestion in the region.
"It's another plan that falls short," he said. "It may get you elected, but it's not going to solve the problem."