A Virginia General Assembly report released yesterday that predicts roughly $3.5 billion worth of road projects could be stalled or cut was dismissed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, strongly disagreed with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study and reiterated his opposition to raising taxes to fund transportation projects in Northern Virginia.
The commission’s study, he said, didn’t take into account recently announced reforms that are overhauling the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and saving tax dollars.
But commissioners insist the governor’s timetable is too optimistic.
“They may not be built within the time schedule they are supposed to be built. We don’t think there is adequate money now to pay for what is in the plans,” said JLARC staff director Philip A. Leone, speaking about the $567 million Springfield Interchange Project, also known as the Mixing Bowl, and other vital road projects included in both the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000 and Mr. Gilmore’s $10 billion, six-year transportation plan.
The commission met in Richmond yesterday to discuss the report at a hearing with VDOT officials.
Specifically, the report predicts the Springfield project will cost another $100 million before it is finished in 2007.
On radio station WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program, Mr. Gilmore said he isn’t concerned about the JLARC study.
“They’re a little bit behind the times here,” Mr. Gilmore said, referring to initiatives he proposed last week that would change the way Virginia deals with contractors and builds roads. The governor also said his plan could save taxpayers $147 million a year.
And he took issue with the report’s finding that many of the projects will finish over budget, saying the review is based on bad information.
“Every report is that the Springfield Mixing Bowl, for example, is on schedule or ahead of schedule, on budget or ahead of budget, and is doing very, very well,” Mr. Gilmore said.
The Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee issued a report more than a month ago expressing similar concerns that VDOT did not have all the money required to advance construction projects.
JLARC member and Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison III, Prince William County Republican, said the study “points out a number of serious flaws in the department that have to be addressed.”
Mr. Rollison is presenting a bill during next month’s General Assembly session to raise the sales tax in Northern Virginia to 5 percent from 4.5 percent to fund transportation. Voters would get the final say via a referendum.
That money, Mr. Rollison said, is going to be needed because VDOT’s six-year, $10 billion road plan is probably going to end up costing $13.5 billion or more.
“JLARC says you are making a $10 billion promise to build road projects in the six-year plan,” Mr. Rollison said. “But … the problem is that we don’t have the cash.”
Delegate David G. Albo, Fairfax Republican, said he could support a referendum for a tax increase as long as specific transportation projects are targeted.
The referendum may be needed because Mr. Gilmore’s reforms won’t pay for all of Northern Virginia’s transportation needs.
“I guess the bottom line is that we need more money,” Mr. Albo said.
Another commission member, Delegate John H. “Jack” Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican, said the study shows that VDOT’s cost-estimate process improved under Mr. Gilmore.
Still, he said, Northern Virginia needs more money for roads and raising taxes may be the solution.
“I think that some form of tax referendum is going to be necessary in Northern Virginia,” Mr. Rust said.
Mr. Gilmore made it clear during his monthly radio program that he doesn’t want to raise one cent in taxes to build more roads an issue certain to come before the General Assembly when it convenes Jan. 10.
“I am just not in favor of that. I think it’s not creative,” he said.
But he said if local leaders want higher taxes, they can put it to referendum under current law. And he went further, saying he thinks voters should be asked outright whether they want higher taxes to pay for transportation.
“Just put a referendum on the ballot up here, and let people vote on whether they want to be taxed further or whether the government should do a better job,” he said. “I think the government should do a better job, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
Mr. Gilmore also explained details of his plan to fund the fourth stage of the phaseout of the car tax. Today, he will have to explain to lawmakers where he plans to cut spending to close the shortfall this year, the second year of the biennial budget.