The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Kaine: Transportation remains a priority: A1

Governor addresses area chamber of commerce officials in Richmond

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

RICHMOND — He’s willing to compromise, but Gov. Tim Kaine said Tuesday that he’s not going to back off transportation without a deal.

Speaking to members of the Winchester-Frederick County Chamber of Commerce during their annual trip to Capitol Square,

Kaine said he’s willing to hear what everyone has to say on transportation, but wants something done this
year.

The day after a House of Delegates committee killed the cornerstone of his plan to raise more money for roads and rail, Kaine said he’s worried about the level of taxation in the state as well.

Concerns about taxation are valid, he said, even as he’s proposed about $1 billion in new taxes annually over the next four years to pay for roads.

“There’s no prize for being the lowest,” he said, noting that services like education and transportation have to be kept in good shape.

But “we always need to be concerned about [taxes],” Kaine said. Virginia’s taxes need to be “low, fair and business friendly.”

Doing nothing has a serious cost in the long term, he said. By 2015, the state will be out of road construction funds and will be losing all of its federal construction funds.

We’ll be suckers,” he said. “We’ll be paying at the pump a federal tax for federal transportation projects,” but won’t be getting government dollars back.

Both Kaine and the Senate have introduced tax plans to raise more money, and the GOP majority in the House of Delegates is preparing to roll out a funding plan this week.

House leaders have said raising taxes isn’t an option with the state’s balance sheet so far in the black.

Money is the stumbling block, Kaine said, recalling an old church sermon.

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” he joked.

Kaine said he’s willing to compromise, but only so far.

“You can’t just use a surplus to build a road,” he said. Funding has to be consistent over the long term.

But speaking afterward, Kaine said he’d consider plans that would use existing taxes to fund bonds to pay for major projects, provided they didn’t hurt the state’s bond rating.

Kaine’s independent opponent in the November gubernatorial election also laid out his vision for transportation to the chamber.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, told the group that legislators have to do something, but funding transit out of the general fund is not an option.

“To try to do that, you’d be constantly competing with those three other 800-pound gorillas,” education, health care and public safety, he said.

“You can’t do it unless you’re going to seriously impede those [core] services,” Potts said.

He again railed against the “flat earth crowd” in the House of Delegates who oppose new taxes.

But Potts’ views didn’t go unchallenged.

Jim Stutzman, the owner of Jim Stutzman Chevrolet in Winchester, had some strong words for Potts when the floor was opened for questions.

Transportation “has been an issue for the past 15 years,” during which the General Assembly had no trouble raiding road funds for the general fund.

But now that the state has more than $1 billion either in or on the way to the bank in the form of surplus, it’s unthinkable to turn the tables, Stutzman said.

And new revenue will be a very tempting prize for legislators in the future.

“I have yet to hear about the plan that’s in place to utilize this billion,” Stutzman said. “I see it as a billion dollars that’s going to be out there for the pickings.”

Potts countered by saying he’d support a constitutional amendment to create a transportation “lockbox,” but pointed to his own plan for roads as a solution to concerns about fairness.

Potts has introduced a plan that would raise the sales tax 1 percentage point to 6 percent and use the money for transportation.

“Thus it hits everybody in an equal fashion,” Potts said. It’s a good deal for retailers, he added, pointing to his wife’s shopping habits.

“Every half hour she’s locked up in traffic going to Tyson’s Corner on Route 7 is another hundred bucks that Nordstrom or Niemann Marcus won’t get,” he joked.