Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, dedicating an extension of Metro's Orange Line, said yesterday he rejects the adage that "if it isn't broke, don't fix it," which politicians have cited for decades to explain Virginia's conservative government.
Those who endorse that credo "are not people who commute to work in Northern Virginia," said Baliles as he ended a four-day "workweek" in the Washington suburbs designed to build support for a multibillion-dollar transportation program.
The governor's stay in what he called "the crown of Virginia's urban crescent" saw him repeatedly plug for measures, certain to be controversial, that he will ask the Virginia legislature to approve in a special session in September.
In public and private meetings, Baliles indicated he is open to a myriad of fund-raising approaches to solve $10 billion worth of transportation needs confronting the state. Higher sales taxes, bond issues (he ticked off four types of bonds the General Assembly could endorse), toll roads and higher gasoline taxes are among the options, he said.
None of them alone, he said, will do the job.
"We have a choice to make," he said yesterday during the Orange Line ceremonies. One would be to follow tradition and "piece together patchwork remedies by finding the squeakiest wheels, throwing on a little grease and declaring the job done. There are those who counsel just that," he said.
That may have been a reference to former senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. of Winchester, who has attacked Baliles' plan to forsake the state's pay-as-you-go method of financing road construction. Byrd's father and predecessor in the state Senate built a political organization that for decades successfully opposed issuing state bonds to finance highway construction.
Virginia needs to march to a different drummer, Baliles said yesterday. The legislature should "act creatively and imaginatively . . . . Take the people of Virginia and our vast resources and put them to work . . . to control the future, and not the other way around."
A major unknown that the legislature will confront is how much federal money will be available for highway construction. The current four-year federal program, which provides $15 billion annually, expires at the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, a few weeks after the Virginia legislature is scheduled to decide on its massive road-building program.
Baliles had hoped to gain some insight into that issue in a meeting Friday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. After the session he said, however, that Virginia "can't move ahead" with the certainty of continued federal funding for its highways. Currently the federal government provides about 70 percent of all highway money in Virginia.
Because the General Assembly holds the key to raising money for highways, airports, ports and mass transit, the words of another speaker at yesterday's Orange Line dedication -- House of Delegates Speaker A.L. Philpott -- were important. Philpott recalled that in 1958, as a young legislator from the rural Virginia Southside, he "heard the first rumblings" of opposition to extending I-66, in which the Orange Line runs, inside the Capital Beltway. "This was the only place I'd ever seen that didn't want an interstate highway," Philpott said.
What perplexed downstate lawmakers, he said, was that "every year you'd elected different people, with different perspectives" on the road. Eventually, Philpott said: "I became the principal spokesman for I-66, even though you didn't want it."
Philpott, who is certain to have a major say over any legislation the special session approves, said he did not know what the governor "promised since he's been up here -- we don't have a correspondent here from Bassett," but the speaker pledged to work for "one package for your total transportation needs."
Philpott made clear, however, that Northern Virginia will have to support highway needs in other areas of the state. He said a state commission has found that road contractors can handle up to $1 billion a year in work "if it is done all over the state."
Philpott made a pitch for improving airports throughout the state. Other than Dulles International -- now the nation's fastest growing airport after several lethargic decades -- Philpott said, "there is not a first-class airport in the rest of Virginia."
Because of that, he said, the state is "losing industry to North Carolina," where a modern regional airport at Greensboro helped attract several national corporate headquarters.