Democrat Tim Kaine pledged prompt first aid June 23 to a Virginia roadways system in crisis, but said he would veto new transportation taxes for the approximately four years it would take to constitutionally shield the highway trust fund from legislative raids.
Kaine said that if he’s elected governor, there would be no new levies specifically for transportation until a state constitutional amendment is in place to require that transportation funds be spent solely for transportation needs and that general funds not be commandeered for roads.
“Any tax increase … any fee increase — or if we can think of any word that’s a synonym for fees — any revenue increase that is proposed into a transportation system, a trust fund, that’s not locked up and protected will be vetoed,” Kaine said during a telephone news conference.
The earliest such an amendment could be passed by the General Assembly and put to voters in a referendum would be 2009, the final year of the next governor’s term. Kaine said nothing short of the constitutional “lock box” amendment would satisfy him.
“The creation of the trust fund was a promise and it’s not been followed, so no, a promise is not going to do it,” Kaine said.
“We’ve got to lock up the trust fund and guarantee Virginians that their transportation dollars will go only to transportation,” he said.
Effectively ruling out new transportation taxes for the next governor’s term would put Kaine at odds with the Senate, whose leaders want to take on major transportation reforms in next winter’s session.
“I applaud the Senate leadership for taking this problem seriously, as they have, and for pulling together citizens to talk about dimensions of this problem,” Kaine said. “But I made it very plain [to Senate leaders] that we’ve got to lock up the trust fund and guarantee Virginians that their transportation dollars will only go to transportation.”
Tim Murtaugh, press secretary of GOP nominee Jerry Kilgore, called Kaine’s unconditional promise to veto new taxes for transportation “a stone-cold, straight-up flip-flop.” Two years ago, Murtaugh said, Kaine said in interviews with two Virginia newspapers that he supported a gasoline tax increase.
One candidate, Republican state Sen. H. Russell Potts, who’s running as an independent, said he would entertain new taxes for transportation. Kilgore also has said he will not increase taxes if elected.
However, in a transportation plan he announced earlier this year, Kilgore advocated establishing regional transportation authorities that could impose new taxes for projects within their regions provided voters approve them in regional referendums.
Kaine said that if elected, he would use the two-month transition time to hold transportation summits in each region of the state.
“We’ve got to acknowledge that 2006 has to be the transportation year,” he said. “We have to make that commitment and build that case so that the population of Virginia is formed into a coalition for action. I commit to do that in my own way by not resting or taking down time in the aftermath of my election.”
Kaine’s plan suggests no massive new construction. It emphasizes greater use of so-called public-private roadbuilding partnerships, maximizing use of urban transit systems, a statewide passenger train system and allowing localities to better control development and coordinate regional transportation initiatives.
Murtaugh said there is no point giving localities more leeway to make regional plans if they lack a means to fund them.
“It doesn’t give them any muscle, any ability to accomplish anything,” Murtaugh said.
Kaine said he would dedicate proceeds from the state tax on automobile insurance premiums solely to transportation, cash that now goes into the general fund, a move that he said would boost the state’s six-year transportation master plan by approximately $1 billion.
Kaine has said that he opposes raiding the general fund — used for such services as public schools, health care and public safety — for transportation, just as he opposes using transportation fund dollars to prop up the general fund in lean times.
On June 23, however, Kaine said he supported using general fund surpluses for transportation, distinguishing large year-end balances like the one the state projects this year, to allowing transportation a carte blanche claim to general fund revenues any time.
House GOP leaders said it was disingenuous for Kaine to sign off on using surplus general funds for road projects when he had criticized the House’s appetite for using money from the same source for transportation.
“Tim Kaine’s willingness to change his colors on transportation funding is troubling,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Callahan of McLean. “If he ultimately is going to adopt Republican proposals, perhaps we could send him some more of our new ideas.”