- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday said $14 million of the new money the General Assembly allocated this year to transportation will go to promoting telecommuting and simplifying use of public transportation.

But that's not additional money, just an allocation of already appropriated money, and Democrats and some influential Northern Virginia business groups want to know what the governor's next step will be to find more money for transportation.

Mr. Gilmore made his announcement on "Ask the Governor," his monthly call-in show on WTOP-AM (Radio 1500), under the eye of a half-dozen television cameras there to cover his plan.

"This is going to be a time that I think people will think back and say transportation was taken on, instead of staying back with the tired old way of doing things," the Republican governor said. "They will look upon this as a holistic, comprehensive approach to transportation in one of the great metropolitan areas of the world."

The centerpiece will be $5.3 million to make Metro's SmarTrip card work seamlessly with local transit systems like Fairfax County's Connector buses. The governor will also offer $3.3 million in grants to companies that promote telecommuting and provide incentives to businesses to lease shuttles to carry employees from the office to a subway stop.

The funding was appreciated, said the chairmen of two Northern Virginia business groups who called in during the show, but they wanted more.

Michael P. Carlin, chairman of REGION, an umbrella group of businesses dedicated to getting more money for Northern Virginia, also called, asking the governor to support a regional transportation authority and more spending overall.

But the governor interrupted him several times, at one point demanding: "You tell me what to do you want me to raise taxes?"

David M. Guernsey, the new chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, was so disappointed with the governor's response he issued a press release saying so. He also accused the governor of blaming the chamber for the increasing cost estimates for the Mixing Bowl project.

The governor's office responded that Mr. Gilmore wasn't blaming the chamber, just explaining that requests like the chamber's for additional signs along Interstate 95 were part of the reason for higher costs.

On that and most issues, both sides seemed to talk by each other. The business groups said the region has a certain number of needs that require a certain amount of spending they cited $500 million a year over the next 20 years while the governor again made it clear he doesn't think new taxes are the answer.

But the governor wouldn't commit to the groups' cost estimates, and the business community wouldn't specify how the money should be raised, other than to support an option for a local tax to pay for roads.

State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said the governor is just trying to "paper over" the issue, hoping to serve out his term.

He said the issue boils down to a certain dollar figure to spend on transportation per year most lawmakers and businesses put the amount at between $500 million and $1 billion a year in Northern Virginia alone and the governor's willingness to find the money.

That means either raising taxes or giving up on his pledge to cut the car tax, Mr. Saslaw said.

The governor charges that Democrats are pushing the issue this summer, as they did last summer, simply for political gain.

But Democrats say their chorus of calls for action stems from what they see as inaction in the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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