- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

Virginia's new Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner, has announced that there's no (or not enough) money in the state kitty to finance any significant road improvements any time soon. Take that as the preface to the next announcement which will almost certainly be that the final leg of car-tax relief will have to be postponed, or that taxes in some other form will have to be raised.
Mr. Warner, who is fully aware of the critical traffic situation in Northern Virginia, stated last week that road improvement plans submitted by the state transportation board amounted to little more than a "wish list … that bears little resemblance to what we can build and when we can build it." He claims the six-year building program approved by the board was under-funded by some $2.4 billion, and that planned projects such as the rebuilding of the I-66 interchange at Route 29 near Gainsville, and improvements to Columbia Pike in Arlington, will almost certainly be put on the back burner. "There will be drastic changes, and a lot of pain," said Ray Pethel, acting director of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Some of that pain may include yet more delays affecting completion of the Wilson Bridge project, and the "mixing bowl" project at the I-495/I-95 interchange in Springfield. Mr. Pethel, who was appointed by Mr. Warner, indicated that the state may have to "borrow" hundreds of millions of dollars just to keep current projects afloat.
All of this, of course, is a convenient preface to the almost-certain call for new taxes and taxing authority that revenue-hungry state politicians have been clamoring for ceaselessly. Chief among the proposals sure to be revisited in the coming weeks and months will be a new or increased sales tax as well as a "delay" (likely to be permament) in the scheduled repeal of the remainder of Virginia's justly loathed personal property tax on motor vehicles, the so-called car-tax. Mr. Warner, who called for a sales tax increase worth about $900 million during his campaign for governor, has as yet not come forward and directly embraced new taxes. Instead, he is speaking of a "crisis" that will call for "solutions" and "leadership" all of them code words for separating Virginians from their hard-earned dollars. Mr. Warner is not likely to try to find the money by imposing fiscal discipline on the state government and attendant bureaucracy. This despite the fact that there are certainly money-wasters in the state budget that could be trimmed in such a way as to provide the needed transportation improvement funds without demanding yet more lucre from state residents.
So consider this Mr. Warner's first shot across the bow and hold on to your wallets and purses.


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