Virginia Could Lose Its Federal Road Funds

By Michael D. Shear and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

RICHMOND, March 27 -- Sen. John W. Warner warned Monday that Virginia will lose federal money if the state fails to reach a budget deal that increases funding for road and transit projects.

His comments came as state lawmakers began a special session to resolve an impasse over taxes for transportation. After a few hours, senators adjourned for the day, and House delegates left town again, to return sometime in the next several weeks.

Warner, the state's senior Republican senator, praised Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for proposing a $1 billion tax increase and challenged members of his party in the legislature to reach a compromise that allows Virginia to receive the maximum amount in federal matching funds.

"It is really up to our distinguished speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate and others to sit down and show a measure of political courage to resolve it," Warner told reporters after a meeting with Kaine and other members of Virginia's congressional delegation. "The people of Virginia deserve no less."

Warner did not specifically endorse any tax increases, as he did during a similar budget battle two years ago. But he said that a stalemate raises the likelihood that Virginia could lose federal funds earmarked for transportation projects.

"There is money on the table by the American taxpayers ready to go to Virginia, providing you've got the adequate matching funds," he said. "Do not leave that money on the table. Money on the table in Washington, D.C., has a strange way of disappearing in the late hours of the night."

Delegates and senators showed no signs of a quick resolution as they met Monday for the first time since adjourning March 11 without a budget. Each body spent most of the day on procedural maneuvers to establish the rules for the coming weeks. Kaine formally submitted a new budget for legislative consideration, similar to the one he endorsed in January.

The governor continued to express optimism that the two sides will come to an agreement, telling leading lawmakers he thought their two-week break from each other had been a productive cooling-off period. He said he also was encouraged by talks about regional solutions in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Kaine signaled he might be willing to listen to such plans for self-help for the two most congested regions of the state, provided lawmakers also find a way to direct new money to needs across the commonwealth.

The governor also said he would talk about letting funds raised in those areas be dedicated to regional projects, a key demand of some Northern Virginia Republicans.

"We certainly don't feel that all wisdom originates in Richmond or all dollar allocations have to be out of the VDOT treasury," he said.

Despite Kaine's words, delegates and senators remained as deadlocked as ever.

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