May 31, 2006; Page A12 Big news from Richmond, Virginia: Republicans are starting to act like, well, Republicans again.
Last week a gang of conservative GOP members in the general assembly foiled Democratic Governor Tim Kaine's plan to raise $1.4 billion in car, gasoline and diesel taxes to pay for more roads and mass transit. This was a victory against long odds, because the renegade House members were lined up against the Governor, powerful Republicans in the state senate, elements of the business community and the state's largely pro-tax media .
Mr. Kaine, who only last year took the Governorship over fractured Republicans, was trying to repeat the tax increase passed by his predecessor Mark Warner in 2003. He was also tapped to deliver the Democratic State of the Union response to President Bush earlier this year. And after Republicans who control the state assembly refused to budge, Mr. Kaine barnstormed the state to make his case.
"The more he criss-crossed the state to win votes," says Whitney Duff, president of the Virginia chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which also opposed the tax hike, "the less popular the taxes became." Voters began to wonder why a state with a $2.5 billion budget surplus would need higher taxes only three years after imposing the largest tax increase in state history. It didn't help that Mr. Kaine was trying to raise gasoline taxes (currently 18 cents a gallon) amid soaring gasoline prices.
Governor Kaine says he'll keep pushing his campaign, and Democrats are accusing Republicans of forcing the state into endless gridlock. Republicans respond that they also want new roads but not new taxes to pay for them when state coffers are overflowing with cash. The successful show of principle by House Republicans has helped to revive a demoralized state GOP, and it demonstrates once again that the tax issue hasn't lost its political salience. That's a lesson Republicans in a few other states could also learn.
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