VDOT audit reveals 2 huge pots of gold

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 10:36 PM

RICHMOND - Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Thursday that he will spend almost $1.5 billion on transportation improvements over the next six years after a new audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation found that hundreds of millions of dollars have been sitting unspent in various accounts for several years.

The bulk of the money comes from two sources: About $400 million had accumulated in construction and maintenance accounts while an additional $654 million in federal money was never allocated to any projects, the audit showed.

"I'd say there has been money sitting in accounts while people have been sitting in traffic," McDonnell said at a news conference at the state Capitol. "And that's unacceptable."

McDonnell (R) repeatedly blamed former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) and his administration for unnecessarily holding on to reserve money when they did not have to and for not spending money quickly enough.

"There was some change in philosophy and policy in the previous administration going back to 2006-07 that has resulted in some of these monies now sitting in places that they shouldn't have been, and some federal options that should have been exercised that weren't," he said.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) , who joined McDonnell at the news conference, criticized Kaine for closing rest stops and trying to raise taxes while money was available to spend. Kaine had closed 19 of 42 rest stops to save $9 million annually.

"This money was sitting idly by, not being used properly. That simply doesn't make sense,'' he said. "That money is now out the door working for the people of Virginia."

McDonnell, who has pledged to find money for transportation without raising taxes, also hopes to receive $458 million from privatizing the state's liquor stores. He expects to call legislators back for a special session in November.

Kaine, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, issued a rare statement defending his performance as governor, saying he led the state during the toughest economic downturn in a generation.

"When the McDonnell administration went to market this past May to sell transportation bonds, they bragged about the smart fiscal management at VDOT,'' he said. "The nation's top bonding agencies studied the agency's performance and agreed, rating the VDOT bonds a strong AA credit."

The 150-page audit, released Thursday afternoon, makes more than 50 recommendations to solve such problems as taking months to hire consultants and poor communication between agency offices. The state will begin to make the changes in the next 45 days.

The audit did not show any fraud. McDonnell said the state fired a manager at the transportation agency (but would not name the employee) and demoted a "couple people." VDOT Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley, a longtime VDOT employee who served during the Kaine administration, was praised by McDonnell.

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