McDonnell reaches out to Senate Democratic leaders on transportation
By Errin Haines,
In calling on Senate Democrats to come to the table for a bipartisan compromise on transportation, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is criticizing their ideas for a solution and dangling the political implications of inaction in front of the party’s leaders.
McDonnell (R) sent a three-page letter to Sens. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) on Friday. In it, he hinted that Senate Democrats could be the obstacle standing between McDonnell and a long-term transportation funding fix.
McDonnell blamed Senate Democrats, led by Saslaw, for derailing the chamber’s version of the governor’s transportation plan on Tuesday. The $3.1 billion proposal is a key item on McDonnell’s agenda for his final year in office, and will be central to his legacy.
The House of Delegates’s plan, which passed with support from four Democrats, is the remaining vehicle for a solution this session.
“Now that redistricting concerns have been eliminated, and the Senate has passed a budget on time, we can all focus on achieving a transportation solution for the good of our people,” the letter reads. “To do that, we must focus on what is possible given the economic and political environment in which we govern.”
McDonnell went on to reiterate his non-starters as proposed by Democrats, including talk of a wholesale gas tax or any plan that does not include tapping the general fund to pay for road and transit improvements. He offered as an example of his willingness to work with them the proposed $300 million for the Dulles Rail Project, something the Senate Democratic Caucus has called for.
“Just last year, your caucus threatened to kill the budget and shut down government in order to secure that funding,” McDonnell said. “I hope the opportunity to gain that critical funding will not be missed. Almost all your Democratic Caucus members represent (the) three regions where the greatest needs exist.”
All members of the House are up for reelection this year. McDonnell is unable to seek reelection because of term limits.
Saslaw and McEachin issued a joint statement responding to McDonnell’s letter late Friday. In it, they pledged to work with the governor and General Assembly toward a solution, but also held to their sticking points headed into next week’s negotiations.
“Any serious proposal needs to produce $1 billion in new revenue every year to meet Virginia’s substantial transportation needs,” the statement reads. “General fund monies are used to pay for education, public safety, and assistance for our most vulnerable citizens. With costs rising in these areas, specially health care and education, taking money out of the general fund will make it harder for us to provide these core services all Virginians rely on.”
Just days ago, Saslaw was quoted in news reports as saying that transportation was “no longer alive” this session.
The Senate is expected to take up the House’s version of the transportation proposal early next week. Any final version of the bill would be hashed out in a joint committee.