As Republican lawmakers edge closer to announcing a deal on Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine's promise to fix the state's transportation system, Kaine met privately with Democrats this week and said he is "encouraged that there is a level of seriousness that wasn't there last year," the Washington Post reported.
Senior Republican legislators seek to persuade their party colleagues to support the proposal, which would raise taxes and fees in northern Virginia, impose fines on bad drivers and launch a new round of borrowing to immediately build Virginia's most costly road projects.
Republican lawmakers involved in the talks declined to declare that an agreement had been reached, but they said they are "very close" to an announcement, according to the Washington Post.
"It's a complicated set of issues," said Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol). "Everyone is trying to get it into the form where there is broad support."
Lobbyist Kenneth Klinge, who served for many years on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, said that "everyone keeps saying the same thing: It looks close."
A deal would bring an end to a years-long battle in Virginia's Republican Party over taxes. The GOP controls both houses of the legislature, but its members have been split over raising revenue to fund transportation projects, according to the newspaper. Several lawmakers said a compromise would be acceptable to the moderates in the Senate and the anti-tax conservative in the House of Delegates.
But before an announcement is made, rumored details about the proposals have begun generating opposition from political and corporate interests across the state, the Post reported.
According to the newspaper, conservative lawmakers in the House, who pledged to not raise taxes, seem to be the hardest sell for Republican leaders who see the tax increases as necessary to demonstrate action on transportation.
Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers, also made it clear that they will not vote blindly just to approve whatever the Republicans agree to among themselves. Several House Democrats from northern Virginia said they are concerned that the Republican proposals will not generate enough money for mass-transit projects. Some Senate Democrats said they are likely to oppose the plan because it relies too heavily on money that is traditionally reserved for schools, police and health care.
Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw said he hopes Kaine will not abandon his long-standing opposition to the use of "general fund" money for transportation. That would amount to a politically damaging flip-flop, the veteran senator warned.
Lobbyists for local governments said they are worried about how growth and sprawl provisions, said to be in the Republican proposal, would affect their ability to manage development as they see fit, according to the newspaper.
Some lobbyists for large commercial landowners expressed anger over a provision that would increase the real-estate taxes on commercial property to pay for road improvements in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the Washington Post reported.
U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) argued that the Republicans will lose seats in November's election if they do not produce a meaningful transportation deal this year, as he pushed lawmakers from his party toward an agreement.