The leading Republican in Virginia's state Senate warned his colleagues Thursday that the commonwealth must not go on a spending spree with the budget surplus from a strong economy.
John H. Chichester (Northumberland), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said at a two-day committee retreat that surplus money, about $1 billion, should be spent on "one-time, non-recurring, non-habit-forming expenditures."
"Listen to that voice in your head that says go slow," he told senators in his southern, patrician-like drawl. "Take it easy. Don't overextend."
The fiscal danger, Chichester said, is that the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) will get "hooked on the revenue" during the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 11.
But while recommending caution in spending for education, public safety and health care, Chichester nonetheless urged a renewed commitment to building and repairing the state's transportation network.
On Friday, a Senate commission called START will continue putting together a comprehensive proposal for modernizing and reinvesting in the state's transportation system. Chichester is expected to use the commission's work to propose legislation that would include tax increases.
In comments during the retreat, Chichester said the state's transportation system probably needs $1 billion more a year. But he said that increase could be phased in over at least a decade. In 2004, the Finance Committee proposed raising taxes by about $800 million a year for roads and transit, but the proposal was dropped as part of a budget compromise.
"I feel this session will be different," he said during his speech. "I believe the momentum is building."
Kaine is also working to build momentum to address transportation issues during his first legislative session. On Wednesday night in Roanoke, the governor-elect held the first of several town hall meetings about the state's traffic crisis.
He told a crowd of about 400 that he considers transportation to be the top issue facing his administration. But he reiterated his opposition to new taxes unless the state's transportation fund is protected against diversion for other purposes.
"There always seems to be an issue that is complicated and tough," Kaine said Wednesday, "and transportation is that issue for the next governor."
Kaine is scheduled to hold a similar meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Manassas Airport Main Terminal, 10400 Terminal Rd.
Efforts to raise taxes for transportation are likely to run into a roadblock in the House of Delegates, where the Republican leadership has said the existence of a large state surplus should end any talk of a tax increase.
At a similar meeting of the House Appropriations Committee in Loudoun County this week, senior House Republicans echoed Chichester's warnings against a spending spree. They also said tax increases are not necessary.
"You might see some proposal, but I don't think you'll see any successful proposal, especially if it involves increasing the tax on a gallon of gasoline," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax).