Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) attacked the state's pay-as-you-go road-building philosophy yesterday as an outmoded legacy of the Byrd organization, and urged the legislature to give voters a chance next year to approve borrowing at least $750 million to halt a highway crisis of "incredible proportions."
"I think the time has come to step into the 20th century," said the Northern Virginia Republican, who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in four years. "We've simply got to bite the bullet."
Parris made his appeal at a Capitol Hill news conference and later traveled to Richmond to promote the idea in a meeting with Democratic Gov.-elect Gerald L. Baliles.
According to Parris, construction needs for Virginia's primary, secondary and urban roads now total at least $15 billion, while only a fraction of the $1.3 billion allotted for roads in fiscal 1986 -- approximately $230 million -- is earmarked for new roads.
Parris, a conservative, called his borrowing proposal "logical and cost-efficient," and consistent with "principles of fiscal responsibility and conservative governmental philosophy at all levels."
Under a policy initiated in the 1920s by then Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr., the state funds virtually all its road building projects from the cash that it has in hand. The only exception has been for toll projects.
Under Parris' proposal, revenues from tolls and gasoline taxes could continue to go to highway maintenance, as well as help to pay the interest on bonds.
Parris also urged, however, that the 1986 General Assembly consider allowing road construction bonds to be issued by the state under a formula that would call on local governments to pay the interest on the bonds in proportion to the construction benefits they receive, while the state government would repay the principal on the loans. That formula, Parris argued, would be "fundamentally fair to all regions of the state."
Parris, an unsuccessful candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination earlier this year, denied that his proposal signaled a renewed interest in running for governor.
"I have reelection in 1986 to worry about," he said. "There's a lot of time before I have to worry about a decision like that."
"The proposal is fairly radical for Virginia," said Fairfax County Supervisor Thomas M. Davis, a Republican, "but I applaud the congressman. The question is do you want the roads or don't you? The alternative is to raise taxes or do what the state has been doing, which is nothing.
"We're building more roads than the state is," Davis added, alluding to a $135 million roads referendum in Fairfax County that won overwhelming voter approval last month.
Parris also rebutted questions yesterday about whether his roads initiative was a break with the tradition of the state's congressional delegation of keeping hands off internal state issues.
"We're past the time when we can sit up here and pretend we're not part of the Commonwealth and impacted by what happens in the Commonwealth," he said. "Transportation is the single biggest issue facing Virginia today, and I believe all of us have to speak out if we're going to solve the problem."
In the current $1.3 billion roads budget, according to Parris, 53 percent, or about $675 million, is for nonconstruction items. Of the approximately $612 million for construction, more than half is earmarked for interstate projects. Only about $230 million is dedicated to construction for primary, secondary and urban roads, Parris said.