Legislators Are Warned Of Cuts to Roads Plan

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

RICHMOND, March 16 -- Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer warned Thursday that the legislature's failure to adopt a budget will force planners to cut about $750 million in road construction from its six-year program.

Homer's announcement rankled some House Republicans, who said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is using "scare tactics" to ratchet up the pressure on Republican legislators to approve tax increases for transportation.

House and Senate budget negotiators met for about two hours Thursday, then gave up for the weekend, saying they plan to renew their efforts Tuesday. Several said very little progress has been made toward resolving differences over whether to raise taxes for road and transit improvements.

The assembly ended its regular session without approving a budget but will return March 27.

In the absence of an agreement, Homer said, Kaine has little choice but to assume that no additional money for transportation will be raised. In a letter to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees state programs, Homer said that will mean no funds to offset higher fuel, asphalt and concrete costs.

"While we are confident that a budget compromise will be reached to provide increased resources to transportation," he said, "the Commonwealth Transportation Board must meet its requirements and base its work on current statutory requirements."

Senators are pushing for a budget that would add more than $1 billion a year for transportation projects by raising some taxes and fees. The House wants to allocate about $350 million in continuing revenue for roads, bridges and transit without raising taxes.

In Northern Virginia, the reductions would mean the six-year plan would be about $157 million smaller than the one the board adopted a year ago. Katherine K. Hanley (D), a board member from Fairfax County, said the likely reductions were "stunning numbers."

If a deal is reached soon, Homer said, the transportation plan could be reworked. But he said the Transportation Department cannot count on that money until the budget is finished.

"It's pretty disingenuous because they know we're going to have a budget," said Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), a House negotiator.

Hamilton said Kaine, who has spent the last week in Iraq and Afghanistan visiting National Guard troops, should know better than to use what he called "a red herring" in the budget debate.

"It must not be that much of a concern," Hamilton said. "The governor is not even in the commonwealth, is he?"

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