Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) wants the state to study the concept of devolution in which larger counties would pick up the tab for maintaining secondary roads.

Four counties are being singled out: Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Chesterfield. Cities already pay for maintenance.

The House of Delegates included a study in its version of the budget, but the Senate did not. Connaughton said he hopes the final budget will include the language.

McDonnell wants the state to study the proposal over the next year, and make recommendations to the General Assembly in time for its next regular session in January 2013.

But some Northern Virginia officials said last week that they remained worried that budget writers may include language this year that would have them pay for roads.

In December, the chairs of the Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun county boards wrote an op-ed explaining why the shift would be a bad deal for the state’s most populous region.

“Although we are of different political parties, we are firmly united in opposition to devolution because of the massive property tax increase it will produce for the residents and businesses of Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties,” they wrote.

McDonnell told reporters at that time that he would not give localities responsibility with no money.

“Their fear is they get what the federal government does to us — mandates without money – and I fully understand that,” McDonnell said. “The last thing I want to do is put another unfunded mandate on local government. If we just did a pure devolution with no money, that's what it would be.”