- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RICHMOND | Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell announced three new members of his Cabinet on Tuesday, including his pick to steer reforms in how the state manages and funds its roads, rails and ports.

Former Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton was named the new secretary of transportation, which oversees a system that is reeling from billions in budget cuts with legislators at an impasse on how to fund improvements.

Mr. McDonnell also named state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Todd Haymore as his secretary of agriculture and forestry and Lisa Hicks-Thomas, a deputy attorney general, as secretary of administration.

Mr. McDonnell called improving the state’s transportation system one of the most important and challenging issues facing his administration.

“I think transportation planning and transportation policy decisions are too slow, they’re too bureaucratic and we’re got to have more speed and more decisiveness in order to get things done,” Mr. McDonnell said. “And yes, we need more money in order to make these things happen.”

Just last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to cut the state’s road and transit funds by $893 million. That brings the total funding reductions since last year to $4.6 billion for the state’s plan to fund projects through 2015, mostly because of declining revenue from automobile and gas sales.

As a commuter in Northern Virginia for 25 years, Mr. Connaughton said he is “intimately aware of the challenges facing Virginia’s transportation system” when it comes to gridlock and crumbling infrastructure.

In July, budget cuts closed 19 of Virginia’s 42 Interstate rest areas. Mr. McDonnell promised again on Tuesday to reopen those within 90 days.

Mrs. Hicks-Thomas, deputy attorney general for the technology, real estate, environment and transportation division of the attorney general’s office, is the fourth person Mr. McDonnell has tapped from his former office to be part of his leadership team.

A former prosecutor in Chesapeake, she represented several state agencies, including the Department of Transportation, and managed the computer crime section.

As secretary of agriculture, Mr. Haymore said he will continue and attempt to expand some of the signature issues he promoted at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They include development of global markets for Virginia farm and forest products and farmland preservation.

“The biggest key to growth is to expand international markets for our products,” Mr. Haymore said in an interview.

“Whether it’s tobacco or apples, the opportunities are greater going to the world market. The numbers speak for themselves.”

Mr. Haymore, a Southside native, recently returned from a trade mission to Cuba and agricultural exports were a record $2.2 billion last year. Top export markets for Virginia include Switzerland, China, Canada and Germany.

Forestry and agriculture is a $79 billion industry in Virginia.

Mr. Haymore, a holdover from the Kaine administration, succeeds Robert Bloxom.

In a statement from his old boss, Gov. Tim Kaine called Mr. Haymore “a principled and compassionate manager.”

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