Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder tried to rebound yesterday from voters' overwhelming rejection of his plan to finance $1.2 billion in roads, proposing new alternatives that aides said could include a statewide general obligation bond issue in 1992.
"Another source of funding will be necessary to fund transportation needs that cannot be funded by existing revenues," Wilder said in releasing his latest plan.
But some lawmakers said Wilder's plan may not do enough to meet the state's need for $37 billion in transportation projects over the next 20 years. They said the General Assembly may decide to add a tax increase in 1992, such as a half-cent increase in the sales tax.
"At least we ought to think about whether that has any potential in 1992," said Sen. Clive DuVal 2d (D-McLean), who said the money from a general obligation bond issue and sales tax could be split between education and transportation.
Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) already has proposed a $400 million statewide bond issue to finance college projects delayed by the state's fiscal crisis, and lawmakers said it could be used as a vehicle to raise money for transportation as well.
Wilder has supported bond financing plans but has ruled out tax increases for transportation and other state programs, and he repeated that pledge yesterday.
The governor's plan -- partly a response to voters' emphatic rejection of the transportation pledge bond proposal in the Nov. 6 election -- asked Transportation Secretary John G. Milliken to list the state's top transportation priorities and "to recommend a means of financing" by next November.
Most of the other ideas in the plan were retreads from previous Wilder statements and actions, though he also ordered Milliken to review the structure of the Virginia Department of Transportation to determine ways to cut administrative and overhead costs by next summer.
The General Assembly probably won't act until 1992, because lawmakers are unlikely to consider a major money issue in 1991, an election year for them. By 1992, Virginia also is expected to know whether it will receive more federal transportation money in the new highway program Congress will put together next year.
Wilder's press secretary, Laura F. Dillard, said that "once we have squeezed all the money from other sources," including the federal government, the challenge will be how to finance projects that don't wind up on Wilder's priority list.
That will require "other funding mechanisms," she said. But "at this time" the options do not include new taxes, Dillard said. She added that she "wouldn't want to put a time limit" on how long Wilder will stick with his view that new taxes aren't part of the answer.
Before any construction projects are delayed, Milliken said, Wilder wants the Transportation Department to look at alternatives that could allow "the maximum dollars to flow" to actual highway construction.
That review, Milliken said, will include reducing right-of-way acquisition costs, which he said should be falling along with other real estate prices; exploring expansion of public-private partnerships to finance roadbuilding, such as was used to build the Dulles Toll Road extension and the widening of Route 28; and shifting more of the burden for building roads to local governments.
"We know we're dealing in an era of reduced resources," Milliken said. Consumption of gasoline, which generates the major part of transportation funds, is down, Milliken said, because of higher prices resulting from the Middle East crisis, and because of the general downturn in the economy.
The Transportation Department already has transferred $45 million of its funds to the state's general fund, to help offset a $1.35 billion budget shortfall, Milliken said, along with $28 million in wages that department employees will lose.
One senior legislator pointed out that earlier this year, Wilder transferred money from the transportation fund, which gets most of its revenue from gasoline taxes and other user fees, to the general fund as a way of cushioning the blow of $1.3 billion in budget cuts.
"You can't take $70 million away from transportation and still have plenty of money for transportation," said the legislator, who asked not to be identified because "I don't want to get in a fight with the governor."
House Roads Committee Chairman V. Earl Dickinson (D-Mineral) isn't sympathetic to calls by Wilder or urban interests for speeding up highway construction during a period of budget constraints.
Dickinson, who represents a rural district between Richmond and Charlottesville, said transportation "should not be our No. 1 priority." He said public health, Medicare and education, all of which face bigger budget cuts than transportation, are more important.