Virginia House Republicans have offered a $2 billion, four-year financing plan that is underwritten partly by daunting new fines on lead-footed drivers.
It provides only about half the additional revenue for roads, commuter rails and transit that competing plans by Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and several GOP Senate leaders would generate by 2010.
More than one-fourth of the House plan is underwritten by debt that would provide northern Virginia and Hampton Roads hundreds of millions more to ease congestion that threatens to choke Virginia’s most vibrant economies.
Unlike the Senate and administration plans, the House includes no additional taxes, nor will any be added during weeks of intense negotiations that remain, said House Speaker William J. Howell.
“The one thing that we are not, at this time, willing to compromise on is that we don’t feel that you need to raise taxes,” said Howell, R-Stafford.
Unlike 2004, when 17 Republican delegates broke with their party’s unbending anti-tax orthodoxy and helped pass a $1.4 billion tax increase, Howell said the GOP majority won’t fragment if it faces another high-stakes showdown with a popular Democratic governor. A large banner at a state Capitol news conference bore signatures of the House Republican majority.
The House GOP offered its financial plan a month after the 2006 session opened. Since then, the conservative Republican majority outlined two other planks of its transportation package but withheld financing details.
Kaine embarks today on a statewide series of town hall-style meetings beginning in Norfolk to promote his nearly $1 billion-per-year proposal, which includes an automobile titling tax increase from 3 percent to 5 percent and an increase in the insurance premium tax.
But the administration and the House were conciliatory Friday, each praising portions of the other’s plans and voicing guarded optimism about a compromise.
Kaine sent Howell a letter Friday morning that compliments the House for many of its transportation ideas, particularly penalties on abusive drivers, support for stronger local land-use laws and greater outsourcing of Virginia Department of Transportation maintenance work.
Kaine’s press secretary, Kevin Hall, said the governor and his advisers were still analyzing the proposal Friday afternoon. He said several concerns were quickly obvious, but that they had encountered no immediate deal-breakers.
He said the House plan applies only an additional $50 million annually to deal with a maintenance backlog already at $350 million and growing. And the administration believes the repayment of approximately $150 million in existing debt is only about one-third what is needed.
The House proposes using $552 million from the current anticipated surplus of more than $1 billion in its financing package next year only, a one-time windfall that comprises one-fourth of the overall package.
“So what do they choose not to fund in the introduced budget,” Hall said.
House Republicans would also dedicate one-third of the tax motorists pay on their automobile insurance, or $579 million over four years, to transportation.
House Democratic leaders said the GOP package was too skimpy and relied too heavily on a dubious estimate that the fines on the habitually bad drivers in the hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands for the worst offenders, would generate nearly $600 million within four years.
“It falls far short of an extensive package to address our transportation needs,” said Del. Brian J. Moran, D-Alexandria.
House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall, D-Richmond, said the package is likely to fatten.
“We may rename some things fees instead of taxes,” Hall said with a chuckle. “We’ve done that before.”
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