- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Warner said he will replace topleaders at the Virginia Department of Transportation as part of a $2.25billion plan, announced yesterday, that relies heavily on regional taxes inNorthern Virginia to build transportation projects.

Forty percent of Mr. Warner's planned spending assumes that NorthernVirginians will vote to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to pay forlocal projects. The details of the referendum would have to be worked out bythe legislature, but Mr. Warner says he supports giving the region the powerto tax itself - something current Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III hasblocked.

"I trust the voters of a region to make a decision about whether they want toraise additional revenues for transportation priorities in their particularregion," he said.

The rest of his planned spending comes from issuing bonds based on futurefederal revenue, getting a bigger share of federal transportation money, anddedicating a specific stream of state money - worth about $100 million ayear - to transportation.

Those pressing for transportation improvements say what's needed most is moremoney. Mr. Warner's plan would be an 18 percent increase over VDOT's currentyearly budget.

He also promised to reconstitute the department's top management, where hesaid bad management is the rule.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley announced his own $1.8billion transportation plan six weeks ago, with many of the same elements asMr. Warner's plan - including bonding off of future federal revenue, usingmoney from the tax on insurance premiums and trying to get a greater shareof federal money.

"He had six weeks to look over the Mark Earley plan and couldn't come up withanything better, except for raising taxes," said Ed Matricardi, executivedirector of the state Republican Party.

But Mr. Warner said his focus on overhauling leadership at VDOT, as well ashis interest in using new technology to build roads, distinguish his plan.As the campaigns slips back into gear following last week's terrorist attackson the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mr. Warner held a newsconference near an interstate in Richmond to announce his plans to overhaulVDOT, though he had already released his plan a day early to two newspapers,The Washington Post and the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.

In the past two years, transportation has emerged as a critical politicalissue, especially in Northern Virginia.

Democrats tried to use it as a wedge issue in the 1999 state legislativeelections, but it didn't gain much traction after Mr. Gilmore proposed hisown major transportation package. What finally passed the legislature in2000 looked somewhat different from the governor's proposal but still addedmore than $2 billion over five years to the state's transportation spending.Mr. Gilmore, though, made it clear he thought the state could spend ontransportation without raising taxes.

Both Mr. Earley and Mr. Warner have broken from that - Mr. Earley bypromising to keep an open mind on the issue, and Mr. Warner by saying hewill support a tax increase as long as it gets voters' approval.Mr. Earley's campaign said that amounts to a pro-tax position.

"It certainly indicates he's going to put the full power and prestige of thegovernor's office behind raising taxes," said Mr. Earley's spokesman, DavidBotkins.

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