- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

RICHMOND — Eleven lawmakers who met about the budget for less than six hours over the past two days recessed for a four-day weekend yesterday, hoping that a proposal to create a regional transportation authority in the Hampton Roads area would jump-start the stalled negotiations.

“We believe there should be a regional authority [in Hampton Roads],” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester said. “This is a component of the transportation issue.”

Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, said he will spend the next few days calling and e-mailing his colleagues in Hampton Roads to see whether there is any interest in supporting a two-year spending plan that includes the creation of a Hampton Roads Transportation Authority.

House and Senate negotiators say it is too early to predict whether the authority would have dedicated state funding or have the power to raise revenue through methods such as tolls or regional taxes that are outside of the state’s normal transportation funding formula.

“It is pretty conceptual,” Mr. Hamilton said.

The 11 budget negotiators are trying to agree on a spending blueprint before the General Assembly returns for a special session March 27.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, called the special session last Saturday after lawmakers failed to approve a state budget during its 60-day session.

The two Republican-controlled chambers still disagree on how the additional money should be generated for transportation improvements.

The Senate’s plan would raise about $1 billion a year for transportation upgrades through an assortment of increased taxes and fees.

The House, which opposes tax increases, wants to raise about $500 million a year for transportation through long-term borrowing, dipping into the commonwealth’s $1.4 billion surplus and diverting money previously earmarked for education, public safety and health.

So far, the talks suggested that negotiators are interested in a transportation solution that would combine the regional approach the House has called for in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads with the Senate’s desire for a statewide solution.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have eyed a regional self-help concept.

Earlier this month, the House rejected a Senate plan that would have given a proposed regional transportation authority in Hampton Roads the power to impose tolls.

In 2002, the General Assembly created the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which is charged with developing a regional transportation plan and serves as the spokesman for the area, said Jim Van Zee, with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Mr. Van Zee said the state allocates about $50,000 a year for the authority’s small staff, and that the authority doesn’t have taxing power.

In addition, “there hasn’t been a lot of serious talk about dedicated funds,” Mr. Van Zee said. “It could be given sources of money dedicated by the General Assembly, if they so choose.”

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