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Kaine, lawmakers still working on budget, transportation fix

Story by Chris Graham

kaine.gifVirginia Gov. Tim Kaine knows that Virginia lawmakers have a tough job.

But …

A deadline is a deadline is a deadline is a deadline.

“We have a very short legislative session compared to most states. Most states have three-, four-, five-, six-month sessions, they’re in all year. The fact that we’re trying to do a two-year budget in 60 days – I give the legislature credit, they’re trying to do a challenging thing,” Kaine told reporters after a town-hall meeting in Staunton this evening that he had scheduled last week to talk about the Virginia General Assembly session in the past tense but became more of an update-in-progress as legislators went to day three of their overtime 2008 session.

“But look, I have time deadlines for getting the budget to them, and I meet it. And then I have time deadlines for getting the budget to them, and I meet it, and then I have time deadlines when they give me a budget back for amending to get it back, and I do it. So they ought to meet their time deadlines,” Kaine said.

Thing is, even when lawmakers meet their constitutional responsibility for delivering a biennial budget to the governor, they are not going to be done with their work for the year, not by a longshot. This time last year, the General Assembly and the governor were working out a transportation compromise that paid for road maintenance statewide and targeted road improvements in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that is now all but torn up – with a measure sitting on Kaine’s desk to repeal the abusive-driver fees that provided $60 million a year to maintenance and an opinion from the Supreme Court of Virginia plastered in newspapers across the Commonwealth ruling the regional transportation authorities that were created along with the fees unconstitutional.

Kaine has indicated that he is considering calling a special legislative session to deal with the transportation issue – and really, it doesn’t look like there’s any way around having to get everybody together to think up a new plan.

“We need to get money into the regions whose regional packages were just struck down. And we need to find statewide maintenance money. At a minimum, we need to do those two things. And so that’s very important that we do that,” Kaine told me today.

I asked him then if he thought there could be any real hope that anything substantive could be done, given how state leaders have been unable to find a solution to the issue for several years now.
“The composition of the legislative body is a little bit different than last year. The Senate is in Democratic hands, the composition has changed in the House. So with a different composition, maybe some things might be possible that weren’t last year. And again, we’re in the aftermath of the courts saying, Hey, nice try, guys, that plan didn’t work. I think we have an obligation to try to fix it, and these needs aren’t going to go away. They just get more expensive,” Kaine said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.