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Robert McCartney: What McDonnell owes Northern Va.

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By Robert McCartney
Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's payback time for Northern Virginia in the wake of governor-elect Robert F. McDonnell's extraordinary landslide victory.

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The region voted for the Republican on Tuesday, and although the margin was narrower than elsewhere in the state, it represented a major turnabout in Virginia's most populous area and ended a strong pro-Democratic trend that began more than a decade ago.

Northern Virginia effectively told McDonnell that it would take him at his word -- stressed in oh-so-many television ads -- that his roots in Fairfax County meant that he knew our area and how to solve its problems.

Now, the region needs to see McDonnell fulfill his campaign promises. As a public service, and to help him keep track, I offer the following "to do list" of what the area expects as McDonnell prepares to take office Jan. 16:

Find money for roads. McDonnell spoke incessantly of his 20-page transportation plan and contrasted it with the considerably less specific proposals of his opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath). I thought a lot of McDonnell's ideas were wildly unrealistic, but now's his chance to prove me wrong.

So, go ahead, Mr. Governor-elect, sell the state liquor stores, add tolls, start private-public partnerships, float bonds -- if that's what it takes to get the money needed to stop the madness at rush hour.

McDonnell should also make good on his pledge to address the severe imbalance between the tax dollars Northern Virginia sends to Richmond and the fraction it gets back.

Here are some projects on which to focus. McDonnell should lock in dedicated funding for the Metrorail system and ensure that the Silver Line is built to Dulles Airport and beyond. He should add the proposed high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on interstates 395 and 95. He should do something for I-66, too, although admittedly our region is sharply divided on whether to widen it inside the Beltway.

Protect education. Here's the rub. McDonnell promised to raise money for transportation without hurting the schools. He also promised a big expansion in college education, adding 100,000 degrees over 15 years. It's a mystery how he'll pay for all of it.

Northern Virginia will be watching closely. This is the most education-oriented part of the state and the center of Virginia's information-based economy of the future.

I have a suggestion for McDonnell on how to square this circle. He should break one campaign promise and accept modest tax increases as part of a bipartisan plan to fund roads without penalizing education. He can call them "revenue enhancements" and justify them on the grounds that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) left the budget in much worse shape than expected.

The GOP base would scream, but it might be that only a conservative can do what's necessary for the state's finances. Remember that Richard M. Nixon went to China and George W. Bush pushed through No Child Left Behind. Most of Northern Virginia would forgive him.


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