Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) told the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce yesterday that he would raise $2 billion in new money for highways and transit without increasing any tax, despite the business group's plea that no source of funding be ruled out.
He called on the chamber's board of directors to be "innovative" in devising sources of highway funding but warned that he would be wary of its input "if your only goal is to reach into the pockets of the convenience store clerk or the single mother out there serving as a waitress some place."
After receiving a welcoming--if not exuberant--round of applause from more than 100 Fairfax County business people at the lunchtime session, Gilmore detailed the transportation funding program he unveiled in August.
He said he would raise $2 billion across Virginia over the next six years in large part by allocating $900 million from the state treasury and spending $817 million from the settlement of the national tobacco lawsuit. In addition to that plan, $590 million would be spent within the next two years by accelerating the receipt of federal transportation money earmarked for the state.
The most notable element of the plan is Gilmore's willingness to spend money from the general treasury to pay for roads and highways, previously funded primarily by gasoline taxes.
Gilmore's speech to the chamber, arranged on short notice, came in the final two weeks of a crucial legislative campaign that has seen transportation emerge as the hottest issue. And while Gilmore did not single out politicians for criticism, he lambasted several competing transportation proposals as "unworkable" and meant only "to exploit traffic congestion for political gain."
Although Gilmore said he wanted to open a dialogue with the Northern Virginia business community about transportation, he declined to take questions from the audience. But the address did mark a new chapter in his at-times awkward relations with the business community, which has asked that tax increases be considered along with other means of paying for highways and transit.