Gov. Gerald L. Baliles sought to assure Northern Virginians today that his "commitment to Metro is as strong as it ever was" and said he expects a special session of the legislature in the fall will examine mass transit as well as highway funding.
Baliles, who took office Saturday, did not dwell on mass transit issues in his 50-minute "State of the Commonwealth" speech Monday. That caused concern among some legislators who feared the Democrat might be planning to retreat from his campaign promises to support the Washington area's transit system or a proposed commuter rail service. The new governor told his first news conference today that his proposed Commission on Virginia's Transportation in the 21st Century will study the plans for a commuter rail system between Manassas and Fredericksburg and Washington, which Baliles has supported.
In Washington, Beverly R. Silverberg, Metro's director of public affairs, said Metro officials are "delighted that Gov. Baliles considers transportation a top priority."
Under a budget proposed by Baliles' predecessor, Charles S. Robb, Virginia will provide $21.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 toward Metro's operating costs. Local governments in Northern Virginia also help offset the system's losses, along with helping pay for the system's construction costs.
Baliles took steps today to remove a potential major roadblock to his call for the special session of the General Assembly in September, by meeting with Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond). Willey has introduced proposals during the regular session that call for raising taxes to finance road construction.
Baliles would not comment on the meeting, and Willey said only that the governor did not ask him to withdraw his bills.
Willey said he will support the study commission -- "Only an ignorant person would oppose it" -- but stopped short of saying whether he thought the special session is a good idea.
"We don't know what the study will show," he said.
Willey, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he will try to win approval of his transportation package. "I didn't introduce it for the exercise."
Earlier at the news conference, Bailies defended his proposal to abandon the state's pay-as-you-go plan for road building in favor of selling bonds, charging tolls or other fund-raising methods.
"There are a lot of people who want to live in a zero-risk society," he said, but "there are risks to be taken in charting any new course. If we are not successful, history will so record it."
The state Constitution limits the amount of bonded indebtedness that can be incurred in any four-year period, and according to the formula, as of last June 30, the amount available was $812 million, Baliles said.
None of the state's roads has been financed by general obligation bonds.
On other topics, Baliles said:
*His two teen-aged children's continued attendance at a private school in Richmond does not detract from his support of public education. "This is a pluralistsic society," he said. "Virginia is blessed with a good mix of public and private schools. I've been to public and private schools in my career. Sometimes it's a matter of personal choice. The fact that one attends or doesn't attend a public school is not an indication of support or lack of strong support."
*His dog, Bandit, may be the recipient of his first "clemency order." Bandit has been barred from the Executive Mansion since dirtying the floor of the Baliles' residence on Inauguration Day.