RICHMOND, DEC. 7 -- The Governor's Commission on Transportation, established last year to draft a blueprint for rebuilding Virginia's outmoded transportation network, held its final meeting today amid charges that the state had failed to find new ways to pay for highway improvements.
In voting on a final package of recommendations, the commission approved a statement supporting local efforts to raise money for new roads but stopped short of any specific legislative proposals. Some Northern Virginia elected officials fear that without a specific mandate from the commission, local financing options for new roads will get little attention or support in the General Assembly.
"We struck out," state Sen. Charles Waddell (D-Loudoun), a member of the commission, said in an interview. Waddell said the measures "didn't begin to touch the tip of the iceberg of our real needs in the high-growth areas of Northern Virginia."
Not everyone shared his pessimism. "We've come a long way in two short years," Gov. Gerald L. Baliles said in a speech to the commission, which he established in 1986. "We will be able to accomplish things over the next 12 1/2 years that we didn't even dare contemplate at the beginning of the program."
The commission played a key role in creating the $422-million-a-year tax package for new highway construction that was approved by a special session of the General Assembly in 1986.
In its meeting today, the commission recommended that the state allow local governments more flexibility in borrowing large sums of money to finance major undertakings such as the $392 million widening of Rte. 28 through Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court placed that project in jeopardy by ruling that the use of pledge bonds was unconstitutional.
Pledge bonds would have allowed the state to raise money by pledging gasoline taxes and other highway revenue to pay off principal and interest. In testimony before the commission, State Finance Secretary Stuart Connock said the Rte. 28 project could be financed in other ways if the General Assembly takes appropriate action during the next session, which begins in January.
But the overall package of financial recommendations came as a disappointment to some commission members, who had hoped that the policy-making body would draft a set of specific proposals.
Instead, the commission approved a subcommittee report that said local needs "vary widely" and that "the unique transportation needs of Virginia's localities cannot be met by a single option." Among the local alternatives suggested in the subcommittee report were property taxes, land transfer taxes and recording fees and local option sales tax increases.
State legislators traditionally have been reluctant to approve local option sales taxes, preferring to preserve the sales tax for statewide purposes. Nor would they be enthusiastic about authorizing an increase in land transfer taxes or recording fees, which are strongly opposed by the real estate industry.
The commission also considered a proposal to allow a private company to build an extension of the Dulles Toll Road to Rte. 7 east of Leesburg. Members voted that the proposal needed further study.