June 17, 2008

Governor Believes Public Supports Tax Plan

By Patrick Kane, The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

Jun. 17--HOPEWELL -- There is no such thing as a free lunch -- or highway project.

Gov. Tim Kaine laid out his plan to find the money during a town hall meeting last night.

"Are we willing to invest in what we want or do we want a free lunch, which you're not going to get?" Kaine asked the crowd of about 80 at the Beacon Theatre. He outlined three problems facing the state and his plan to scrape together the money.

"We're trying to find ways to tighten our belts," Kaine said. He believes financial investment is needed to have high-quality roads and public transportation.

Repair costs are rising quickly and eating into the cash for new projects. Also, Virginia's taxes on new cars, gasoline and retail products are lower than the national average.

Kaine showed a map with many new construction projects around Richmond that will be simply left undone without new money. He plans to fill the gap by increasing vehicle registration costs by $10 and increase the auto sales tax by 1 percent.

Deepening congestion in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads present another problem. Kaine proposes a 1 percent regional sales tax for those areas.

"We need to think about doing things differently," the governor said, talking about a new $140 million per year Transportation Change Fund for rail, telecommute, transit and other alternatives. Some 25 percent of it would go to economic development projects to keep people working near home. Raising the grantor's fee by 25 cents per $100 for every home sold would cover that cost, Kaine said.

After running through his presentation, citizens were able to ask questions. One asked if money could be diverted from the Virginia Lottery for roads. The governor said it was set aside only for education by law.

Pierce Homer, secretary of transportation, said money for Fort Lee would come with Kaine's plan. Two or three other projects could be funded should more money come, he said.

Henry Parker, chairman of the Prince George County Board of Supervisors, said he had seen 27 six-year plans and liked Kaine's ideas.

"Politics got us into this situation and politics has to get us out," he said, recalling tolls being taken off of roads and bridges. "We have to bite the bullet."

Last year's package, which included regional taxing authorities for northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and costly new penalties for driving infractions, was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

A special legislative transportation session called by Kaine begins at noon Monday. Republican leaders in the house, including Majority Whip Delegate M. Kirkland "Kirk" Cox, R-66, have spoken against the tax hikes but seem open to more toll roads.

Matoaca Supervisor Marleen Durfee liked what she heard about binding local planning decisions to transportation funds. She thinks "smart-growth" should be incorporated locally.

Petersburg Mayor Annie Mickens talked about the challenges of running a public transportation system and serving those who can't afford the expense of a car.

"The governor is serious about putting a plan in place," Mickens said. "It's too important not to happen."

Kaine said lawmakers should come to Richmond next Monday with ideas.

"It's going to be challenging. We can solve it," he said. Since his plan borrows from the plans implemented in 2007, he believes legislators "ought to be willing to vote for the same revenue streams again."

"Most people think it makes basic sense," Kaine said.

--Patrick Kane may be reached at 722-5155 or [email protected]


To see more of The Progress-Index or to subscribe to the newspaper, visit http://www.progress-index.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.