After a 133-day deadlock over the state's two-year, $72 billion budget, the Virginia Senate agreed last week to demands by House Republicans to postpone debate on a massive new investment in the state's transportation infrastructure.
Gov. Tim Kaine (D), along with a bipartisan coalition of senators and House Democrats, had sought to boost transportation spending by $1 billion of new revenue per year. But the House GOP balked at increasing taxes and fees while Virginia was enjoying a budget surplus.
"It's difficult to pass new taxes on people after we increased taxes two years ago," said Del. Vince Callahan (R-34), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. "We've had a $4 billion surplus over the last three years."
Callahan promised that the General Assembly would reconvene, possibly in the fall, to take on the transportation funding issue.
Del. Brian Moran (D-46) said he is skeptical that House Republicans will allow meaningful spending increases for transportation, as many are ideologically opposed to tax increases.
"Their rhetoric is that they'll do something later, but I'm skeptical that those in the House will actually tackle transportation, whether it's May, September or 2007. If they're opposed to tax increases in May, why would they have changed their minds this fall?"
Moran said the lack of action on transportation could be a blessing in disguise for Northern Virginia Democrats, as it gives them a salient issue to challenge Republican incumbents.
"I think this has dire consequences for Northern Virginia Republicans," Moran said. "Their constituents are stuck in traffic and they're refusing to take action."
Callahan said he is not worried. Internal polling of his constituents in Great Falls and McLean indicated a majority did not support increasing taxes for transportation, he said.
Though the General Assembly appears close to resolving the budget deadlock, House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford) said a few differences of opinion remain over education and capital spending.
Howell said transportation spending is a top priority for the House GOP, as their proposed budget includes $850 million for transportation projects.
"The people of Virginia should not have to pay more to their government to get the General Assembly to fulfill its responsibility to appropriately prioritize spending," Howell said. "House Republicans understand this, which is why transportation consistently has been — and remains — a top priority for us in crafting a new state budget."