- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia's six-year transportation plan is facing an additional $700 million shortfall, which will mean eliminating or delaying road-building projects.
Ray D. Pethtel, interim commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday that up to $3.1 billion in projects in the plan may have to be scrapped because of declining collections from the half-cent of the sales and use tax dedicated to transportation. He also said there could be a shortfall of as much as $1 billion in 2003.
Secretary of Transportation Whittington W. Clement said there is also $211 million less coming from the federal government next year because of lower-than-expected gas-tax receipts.
"I don't know how many projects are going to come out, how many are going to stay in," Mr. Pethtel said. "We will try to complete all of the projects that are under way now."
He said the cutbacks will not affect construction on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement and the Springfield interchange, or Mixing Bowl, but other smaller road projects in Northern Virginia could be on the chopping block.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, has labeled the six-year blueprint a "wish list" where projects linger for years and never get built.
Part of the problem, Mr. Pethtel told the committee, is that VDOT does not have the flexibility to shift money from projects that won't be started soon to those that have already begun.
This year alone, Mr. Pethtel said, there are about $103 million worth of projects and operating costs that he would like to see freed up and allocated to other critical road-building needs.
Mr. Pethtel said Virginians should expect road-building operations to be scaled back.
"Expectations are too high," Mr. Pethtel said. "We've got to realign those expectations, lower those expectations."
VDOT officials, who have already met with construction-industry representatives, are expected to give them a list of scrapped projects by the end of this week.
House Transportation Committee Chairman John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican, was undecided on whether VDOT should be given flexibility to prioritize projects.
He said Northern Virginia alone could face severe cuts in transportation funding. According to a report drafted for him by the House Appropriations Committee staff, Mr. Rollison said the region could lose about $350 million a year over the next two years in transportation funding.
"It emphasizes how important it is for us to move forward with our transportation initiative in Northern Virginia," he said, referring to the sales-tax referendum he is pushing. If passed next fall, the half-cent sales-tax increase that would be imposed would raise about $100 million a year for transportation needs.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican, supported the idea of giving VDOT more discretion over spending.

Sen. Madison E. Marye, Shawsville Democrat, became the second senator in a week to propose rolling back the car-tax rebate to 55 percent.
Currently, the rebate is at 70 percent, with taxpayers paying the remainder of the tax to localities.
Mr. Marye said reducing the rebate would free up $180 million to plug the state's $1.4 billion fiscal 2002 budget shortfall. The state faces a total $3.5 billion shortfall though 2004. He has introduced legislation to make the rebate 55 percent.
Last week, Sen. Edward R. Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, called for rolling back the rebate.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat and president of the Senate during session, said there is not much chance the car-tax cut will go below 70 percent.
Mr. Kaine cited the governor's agreement with Republican legislative leaders to hold the car-tax cut at 70 percent through 2004 as the major reason the level of relief would not go down.
"He isn't going to throw the car in reverse," Mr. Kaine said.

Special license plates for Parrotheads and patriots won House of Delegates approval yesterday.
The House voted 60-39 to pass Delegate Robert G. Marshall's bill authorizing a special plate for Jimmy Buffett fans who are members of the Parrothead Club. Three other Marshall bills with post-September 11 patriotic themes were approved 94-3.
There was no debate on any of the bills, but some delegates said later that some of Mr. Buffett's songs send the wrong message to young people and should not be sanctioned by the state. Mr. Rollison cited "Margaritaville" and a popular Buffett song about drinking and sex.
Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, said the Parrothead Club is more than a fan club it's a service organization that assists food banks and other worthwhile causes.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, was not persuaded. "I'm told the Parrothead group does a lot of good works," he said. "But that one probably wasn't in the same vein as the Boy Scouts of America."
The same bill passed the House last year, but was killed by a Senate committee.
The patriotic license plates winning House approval carry the messages "God Bless America," "Proud to be an American" and "United We Stand." Mr. Marshall said he proposed the bills at the behest of a constituent who had a hard time finding American flags for sale after the terrorist attacks.
Delegate Viola Baskerville, Richmond Democrat, said she voted against the bills not because of their message, but because she opposes all specialty-plate legislation. She said legislators, inundated with dozens of license-plate bills each session, should turn the job over to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
A bill sponsored by Delegate Michelle McQuigg, Prince William Republican, would do just that.
She said dealing with the plates can be time consuming, especially when they are controversial. Among the more hotly debated plate proposals in the recent years: one for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and one from a pro-life legislator that said "Choose Life."
Another bill, sponsored by Sen. John Watkins, Chesterfield Republican, would establish a joint legislative panel to review special-plate legislation. DMV supports that bill, spokeswoman Pam Goheen said.
Virginia offers 180 specialty plates, for groups and enthusiasts ranging from the National Rifle Association to ham-radio operators. The plates cost from $10 to $25 more than regular plates. Last year, they brought in $4.8 million. Vanity plates brought in an additional $8.5 million.
The House yesterday also approved special plates for supporters of Virginia zoos, the American Cancer Society, the Girl Scouts, and members of Rotary International and the 1600 Communications Association, a group of former White House military communications workers.
Other special plates sent to the Senate incorporate the United States flag in the design and carry the messages "Education Begins at Home" and "Unlocking Autism."
• • •
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee endorsed legislation imposing safety regulations on roller-skating rinks after hearing the tearful plea of a mother whose 5-year-old son died in a skating accident.
Clark Guye died after another skater fell on him during a party for his sister's seventh birthday at a Newport News rink on Feb. 17, 2001. He died of an "acute head injury," according to the Medical Examiner's Office. He was not wearing a helmet.
One provision of the bill sponsored by Sen. Martin E. Williams, Newport News Republican, would require rinks to have helmets available for 10 percent of the maximum number of skaters.
The bill goes to the full Senate.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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