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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Delegates describe different deadlock this year; B1

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By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

In 2004, a Republican split allowed a Democratic governor to win a $1.5 billion tax increase.

In 2006, the General Assembly is again deadlocked, with Republicans once more fighting Republicans over taxes. But one of the GOP delegates who jumped ship last time says 2006 isn’t 2004 by a long shot, and he has no intention of doing so this time.

“We’re hanging together,” said Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, speaking of the House Republican majority. “This is a far different situation [than it was] in 2004.”

May was one of 17 Republican delegates who voted with Democrats in 2004 to enact the tax increase package. The big difference this time is the state’s bottom line, which is looking pretty good at the moment.

Since the vote in 2004, the state’s coffers have seen more than $860 million in surpluses, with more projected to be on the books by the end of this fiscal year.

Nobody questions that gridlock is a major problem in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, May said. But fixing transportation isn’t the same as running short on money for core services.

“We’re not in a disaster scenario this time,” May said. “In 2004, we were. Education, law enforcement and other high-priority programs would have been hit without the tax hikes two years ago.”

“Those were legitimate cuts,” he said. “Without what we did in 2004, there would have been every reason to say ‘Yup, you cut core services.’ That’s not true this time.”

That hasn’t stopped Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine from trying to re-create the 2004 split. Kaine’s Moving Virginia Forward Political Action Committee has been rallying supporters to pressure delegates to see things his — and the Senate’s — way.

“Why hasn’t the General Assembly produced a budget?” Kaine wrote in a mass e-mail to supporters on Monday. “The Virginia Senate and I agree — as do many members of the House of Delegates — that we need a new, dedicated, long-term source of revenue for our transportation system.”

“The House of Delegates’ leadership would rather take money from schools, public safety and the environment for a band aid solution that doesn’t fully address our transportation needs,” he wrote. May and other delegates fervently dispute that charge.

The PAC’s Web site has been converted into an outreach machine, with instant letters to delegates, newspaper editors and phone numbers all just a few clicks away.

Kaine and others have produced radio, print and Internet ads targeted at getting commuters on the phone with their delegates in Richmond, asking what they have missed because they’ve been stuck in traffic.

Two Northern Virginia Republicans who voted in favor of the tax increase in 2004 have been replaced by Democrats, as has a third who didn’t cast a key vote for or against the hike.

The recent death of longtime Del. Harry Parrish, R-Manassas, also changes the playing field.

With only 99 seats filled in the House, the number of votes required to pass an appropriations bill drops from 51 to 50. A special election to fill the seat has not yet been called.

Geography still comes up short of giving Kaine a holdover majority from 2004. Only six of the remaining members of the 2004 GOP breakaway live in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the two areas most choked by traffic.

The remaining eight GOP delegates who supported the tax increase two years ago live outside the state’s traffic hot spots — leaving 50 Republicans who either don’t live inside the gridlock zone or didn’t support the 2004 hike.

And those 50 aren’t going anywhere, said Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester. While she voted against the 2004 hikes, in 2006 she agrees with May.

“I wouldn’t describe it as being the same” as 2004, she said. “[The GOP majority is] solid. The last time we weren’t seeing a surplus. This time we are. We’re just coming off a large tax increase.”

The entire General Assembly will reconvene on Monday.