On July 10, Governor Kaine held a press conference to berate General Assembly Republicans for blocking his transportation bill, and to make it clear he’d use this against the GOP in next year’s elections. Problem is, it wasn’t Republicans that killed his bill – it was members of his own Party!
Historically, when Governors have called special sessions to address a particular issue, they have typically had some consensus on how to address that issue – and certainly, consensus from fellow members of his political party.
Not so with Tim Kaine.
Since Kaine called the legislature to Richmond, the media reported that his primary motivation seemed to be more about politics than about policy.
Specifically, there is much doubt as to whether the Governor really wanted to address transportation, or if he just wanted to have a club to beat over House Republicans next year when all 100 members are up for election. Knowing that there was little or no consensus, it is hard to believe that Kaine expected much to come out of the transportation special session, especially since he had spent more time traveling the nation campaigning for Vice-President than facilitating discussions between legislators in Virginia.
His statements to the press July 10 confirmed that belief. However, it didn’t take until last Thursday to see what was going on.
The Governor unveiled his proposal of tax hikes in a series of nearly a dozen town hall meetings around the Commonwealth and it had been debated among lawmakers, special interests, and in the media for weeks prior to the legislature arriving back at the Capitol.
Yet, a funny thing happened when the General Assembly convened: the Governor’s bill was declared dead-on-arrival, but not by Republicans – but by Senate Democratic leaders, who now control the majority in their chamber. Kaine couldn’t find a single Democrat in the Senate to sponsor his bill, and in the House, had to twist the House Democratic leader’s arm to sponsor it – and even he ended up voting against it.
That’s right – the Senate Democrats refused to even bring Kaine’s bill up for a vote in the Senate, and when the bill came up for a vote in the House, the sponsor of Kaine’s bill voted against it.
But he wasn’t the only one. In a unanimous vote (0-98), not a single Democrat (or Republican) voted to support the Governor’s plan.
In contrast to the Senate, the House majority thought that it was important to give major transportation funding legislation a fair hearing, including Kaine’s legislation. Three funding bills came to the full House floor for a chance to be debated and to be put to a straight up-or-down vote.
And when each of those three bills came to a vote in the House, there wasn’t a straight party-line vote on any of them.
The first bill (Kaine’s), as mentioned, failed to pass by 0-98. All Democrats and Republicans joined together to defeat the measure.
The second bill, legislation sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, also got full consideration by the House. This legislation, which originally contained an increase in the gas tax, sales taxes, and other tax hikes, also was rejected by the House with both Democrats and Republicans opposing it.
Finally, the third bill – sponsored by Newport News Republican Phil Hamilton – provided up to $900 million in additional transportation funding to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions, but without raising taxes or fees. This proposal passed the House with both Republican and Democrats supporting it.
Again, not a single straight Party-line vote on any of these three bills. Republicans and Democrats killed two bills, and passed another over to the Senate.
In addition, the House passed a number of other transportation related bills over to the Senate. Everything from locking-up the transportation trust fund (so that it can’t be raided for other, non-transportation related spending), to requiring an outside audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to ensure that we’re getting the most of each dollar spent on roads, rail, and transit.
This package of legislation, including the funding bill (that didn’t require tax hikes), was sent over the Senate Democrats where they quickly killed each and every one, many of them dying late into the night in committee rooms (i.e. never getting the benefit of a full floor vote in the Senate).
It isn’t clear how the Governor’s failed logic lead him to the conclusion that the failure to address Virginia’s transportation challenges somehow falls upon Republicans.
Republicans acted to address Virginia’s transportation challenges. Democrats obstructed -- namely, on the Governor's own proposals.
Kaine’s Thursday press conference reminds me of my 21-month-old daughter when she throws a temper tantrum because we gave her the red pacifier instead of the white one. She’s still getting the pacifier, just as the House Republicans did address transportation. But because Kaine didn’t get the pacifier he wanted (a massive tax hike on hardworking Virginia families), he’s now throwing a tantrum of his own.
Transportation is an urgent problem in the Commonwealth, one that must be addressed. General Assembly Republicans are working toward that goal.
Yet, taxpayers in the Old Dominion are crying “uncle”, overtaxed and struggling as it is to make ends-meet. For now, asking families to pay more is something the public doesn’t support, and as we’ve seen, nor does the General Assembly.
The Governor and his tax-me-more cronies need to get this tax debate behind them. There are many new, innovative, and creative solutions to our transportation crisis out there that we can act on. But not until Kaine stops holding them hostage to tax hikes.
Jeffrey M. Frederick is serving his third term in the House of Delegates from eastern Prince William County, where he is a member of the Transportation and Finance Committees. He is also Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.
This column is published in the Washington Times on Tuesday, July 22, 2008.