McDonnell to roll out massive spending campaign for roads, colleges, jobs

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 12:47 AM

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plans a massive spending campaign that he said would unclog state roads, award thousands more college degrees and spur job creation, part of an aggressive legislative agenda he is expected to roll out this week.

McDonnell (R) will press lawmakers to approve a series of statewide projects he said would be paid in part through Virginia's $403 million budget surplus, $337 million in higher-than-expected tax revenue, and $192 million generated through cuts and savings.

And in stark contrast to other governors, who are cutting budgets and slashing payrolls, McDonnell told The Washington Post that he plans to borrow nearly $3 billion over the next three years for transportation projects and intends to spend an additional $400 million to fix the state's ailing roads, $58 million to help state colleges and universities, and $54 million to create jobs.

"When you only have four years to do things, you understand the clock is always ticking," said McDonnell, referring to Virginia law that makes it the only state in the nation where a governor can't succeed himself. "You have a sense of urgency to get things done."

Democrats said that they share many of the Republican governor's priorities but that his transportation proposal is filled with IOUs and his jobs plan is based on stimulus money that will eventually run out. "His goals are sound, but his methods for achieving them are unsuccessful," said Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

The governor said he is aware that his legislative package is hamstrung by a divided General Assembly -- Republicans control the House, but Democrats run the Senate -- and the pressures of a looming election in which all 140 legislative seats are up for grabs.

But McDonnell said that if Democrats have better ideas, they should propose them. "I am perfectly willing to be bold and say 'Here's the problem and here's my solution to fix it,' " McDonnell said during the interview in his Capitol Square office. "You can't fight something with nothing. And right now, I haven't heard any alternatives."

A former veteran legislator, McDonnell will submit 130 measures from his state agencies during the legislative session that begins Wednesday, and even more from his office that will represent his top priorities, including a scaled-back plan to privatize state liquor stores. Delegates have laughed that they are having trouble carrying the governor's bills while abiding by House rules to sponsor only 15 bills each.

"He has a big agenda -- tons of bills," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). "And he painstakingly analyzes everything."

Tackling roads

The governor, the first Republican chief executive in eight years, said the administration will also make larger payments into the Virginia Retirement System. Much of the surplus is committed by law to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, K-12 education and transportation, but McDonnell decided to put more money into roads and give state employees a 3 percent bonus while making additional payments into the retirement system to ensure its solvency.

He also plans to release the second part of his transportation proposal, which will include both more funds for roads -- but no tax increase - and a flurry of management changes after an audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation found that hundreds of millions of dollars sat unspent for years in various accounts.

Every Virginia governor in modern times has tried to tackle the state's transportation problems, and McDonnell is no different. He already announced he wants to spend $150 million from last year's budget surplus and $250 million recouped from the transportation audit.

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