Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) called today for an overhaul of Virginia's transportation network, while declaring his ironclad opposition to a gasoline tax increase to pay for new roads or other measures to ease congestion.
Gilmore, addressing the inaugural meeting of a 21-member study commission he appointed in May, said there ought to be "new thinking" about the state's highway, port and rail system, abandoning "preconceived notions on what the answers ought to be."
But Gilmore made it clear that a gas tax increase--a funding tool long favored by state Democrats and some business leaders--was not a palatable option to him.
"That would be backward thinking," Gilmore said. "Simply raising taxes is poor management."
The governor's staunch line on new revenue dismayed some Northern Virginia leaders.
"Gilmore is in total denial. He's been in total denial since he took office," Fairfax developer John T. "Til" Hazel Jr. said. "His transportation agency is in shambles. He just doesn't get it."
Hazel said Gilmore's refusal to acknowledge the need to raise more money is causing enormous transportation problems throughout the state. He called the governor's transportation planning "chaotic."
"They can't afford to admit there's a need because it's a colossal amount," Hazel said. "They need at least a billion dollars of new money every year. It's see no need, hear no need and speak no need."
Memory Porter, the veteran legislative lobbyist for Loudoun County government said, "I didn't hear enough to be encouraged.
"I don't know what the answer is without new revenue sources."
Porter recalled the alliance last winter between a unified delegation of Northern Virginians and rural Southside Virginians that sent $208 million in bonding authority to the two regions for roads.
"If it weren't for the Northern Virginia transportation bonds, we would really be behind," Porter said.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) said, "We have to expand the transportation system in Northern Virginia. If that can be done without more money, I'll be fascinated to see how. Those investments don't come free."
Del. John A. "Jack" Rollison III (R-Prince William), a commission member and an architect of the legislative alliance, hailed Gilmore's initiative but pointed out his region's needs.
Rollison quizzed one of the commission's first witnesses, former state transportation secretary Robert E. Martinez, about whether there was enough money to meet the state's pressing transit requirements.
"I don't think it's adequate," replied Martinez, who served in a Republican administration for four years until Gilmore's ascension.
Rollison said in an interview that there ought to be "structural changes in the culture" of the state transportation department, which lost several experienced managers in the four years before Gilmore, when Gov. George Allen (R) was in office.
Rollison said the department, a $2.6 billion-a-year agency, was infected by a "Brother Rat mentality," a reference to the clubby atmosphere fostered there by its many alumni of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.
Gilmore gave his commission a wide-ranging charge to look at federal highway funding, mass transit and the building of more lanes on heavily traveled roads, but he warned the panel that if it resorts to a tax-and-build strategy, "we are not doing our jobs."
The commission includes several business leaders from the Washington suburbs.
It is chaired by J. Kenneth Klinge, of Alexandria, a longtime GOP activist and transportation expert.
Also serving: construction czar Sidney O. Dewberry, of Dewberry and Davis engineering firm; Loudoun County developer Leonard. S. "Hobie" Mitchell; and electronics executive Todd A. Stottlemyer, the outgoing president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
This month, as he left the business group, Stottlemyer issued a call for transit relief in the region.
"It is simply unacceptable to have the distinction of being labeled the second most-congested region in the United States and the first most-congested region in terms of per-capita income lost," he said. "We must get this region moving again."
Stottlemyer and his allies have floated the idea of regional taxation to pay for mass transit and other commuter initiatives.
In a June 6 speech to a transportation group meeting in Roanoke, former governor Gerald L. Baliles called for a sustained commitment to resolving Virginia's transportation needs.
Baliles, a Democrat who made transportation--and higher taxes to pay for it--a hallmark of his administration in the late 1980s, said Northern Virginia is "choking on congestion" and listed what he described as urgent transportation problems across the state.
Gilmore, in an unusually personal shot at a predecessor, quoted from Baliles's remarks today and added, "Talk about the ghost of Christmas past!"
"I ask you not to be seduced by the old voices that ask you to add more money to do things the wrong way," Gilmore said.
Baliles, now a Richmond lawyer, issued a three-sentence response.
"Don't shoot the messenger!" Baliles said. "The Roanoke speech simply defines the dilemma, and, unfortunately, Virginia's transportation problems are likely to get worse before they get better.
"I wish the commonwealth well in building more roads without more money."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Gov. James S. Gilmore III called for overhaul of transportation network.