A New Dynamic In Play in the 2007 Session

It looks like Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s growth-control legislation is going nowhere. One day after a Senate committee rejected the Kaine plan, which would give localities power to reject rezoning requests in the absence of adequate transportation infrastructure, a House panel tabled it as well. Republicans seem to determined to press forward with their own package of reforms. As Tim Craig and Amy Gardner report for the Washington Post:

“Kaine had his opportunity last year, and he didn’t do anything to push it, and the Republicans now have a package,” said Michele B. McQuigg (R-Prince William), chair of a subcommittee of the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee, which voted not to act on Kaine’s bill. GOP lawmakers still could use Kaine’s bill as a bargaining tool.

With the GOP-dominated House and Senate working together for the first time in years, an interesting new dynamic appears to be at work in the General Assembly. For years, Democrats have been criticizing Republicans for their failure to devise a comprehensive approach to transportation policy — in effect, a failure to govern. It seemed such a sure-fire recipe for electoral victory that Kaine threw down the gauntlet, setting up the 2007 legislative session as a major issue in the fall House and Senate elections.

As public policy the GOP package — especially the funding piece — is an abomination, the hideous offspring of the legislative process. But as politics, it just may work.

First of all, this may be the test that hardens House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, into a powerful political force. During his first years as House Speaker, Howell was seen as likeable but weak, unable to enforce discipline in his ranks. He was outmaneuvered by Gov. Mark R. Warner in the 2004 tax debate, and he played defense during the transportation debate last year.

It is evident to me that Howell has grown in confidence and stature. He was the critical player in forging the GOP compromise, bridging the gaps that had divided House and Senate, and he is pulling out all the stops to push it through the legislature. His Senate counterpart, Senate Finance Chair John H. Chichester, R-Northumberland, who was so visible in last year’s confrontation, has been exceedingly quiet — marginalized, dare I say? — this year as other Senators take the lead in making the compromise work.

The other dynamic is that, for once, its not the Republicans cast in the role of naysayer. House Minority Leader Franklin D. Hall, D-Richmond, is counseling caution. “This plan has sweeping public policy changes in the area of taxation, in the area of land use, in the areas of state-local relationships,” the Post quotes him as saying. “Let’s immediately take this out to the people in an attempt to let the public know what’s in this bill so that they can have a say.” Translation: Whoah, let’s put on the breaks.

For the moment, the Dems appear to be in a box. If they acquiesce to the GOP package, they lose the big campaign issue they’ve been hoping for this fall. They’ll have nothing. If they oppose it, they deprive the GOP of a legislative victory — but they stand to be accused of sabotaging the best chance in a generation to “solve” the transportation crisis. High stakes indeed.

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One response to “A New Dynamic In Play in the 2007 Session”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Everyone who is truly suprised that the land-use measures did not make it to the floor – please stand up.

    .. Was Kaine truly serious about his proposal?

    If anyone is still wearing their rose-coloreds…. go to the Virginia Public Access page and look at the category called “largest donors” though I admit this year Dominion Power and the pay-day lenders are getting their licks in also.

    but I’m going to predict that this transportation package from the Republicans is going to die from a thousands drops.. and unravel…. First.. the Black Caucus.. then Prince William County… and more rumblings being heard…

    No one does wants “nothing” to take home – not even the Dems but this is one major toad to swallow as is….

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