- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

RICHMOND | Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds said Wednesday he would support legislation boosting “revenues” for transportation, but left himself acres of wiggle room.

In an online interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mr. Deeds said he would sign such a bill if the General Assembly passed it. But he never specified what he wanted to see in the bill.

The interviewer noted that Mr. Deeds had supported a proposal to increase the gasoline tax two years ago and asked whether he would support a bill boosting taxes if he’s governor and such a bill reaches his desk.

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Mr. Deeds replied that he would work with both parties “to build consensus around a series of ideas that allow us to fund transportation, and yes, I will sign that bill.”

It was Mr. Deeds’ clearest expression yet of his sense that new streams of cash are necessary to address the state’s crippling transportation deficiencies. In earlier interviews, public appearances and his debate last month with Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell, he refused to commit to a need for new taxes for transportation, an issue that has become the linchpin of his economic development package.

Yet Mr. Deeds never uttered the word “taxes” in referring to his approach to transportation, or said whether he would advocate new or increased taxes if elected, as Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine has done twice since he took office in 2006. Both times, in special summertime legislative sessions, the House Republican majority shot down transportation tax proposals.

Now, declines in transportation revenue have prompted the state to cut nearly $2.6 billion from its six-year road-building plan in 2009 alone. Among the belt-cinching steps is the closure of 19 rest stops along well-traveled interstate highways just as summer vacationers flock to Virginia’s beaches and historical attractions.

The state’s backlog in unmet road-construction needs exceeds $100 billion and continues to grow - particularly in populous Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Mr. Deeds did rule out diverting any money from general fund programs, particularly education.

His Republican rival proposed ideas to increase transportation funding, such as selling Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores, tolling the northbound lanes of Interstates 95 and 85 at the North Carolina line and diverting some of the sales tax collected in Northern Virginia from the general fund to transportation projects in the region.

Mr. Deeds claims the sales tax diversion would siphon $5.4 billion from public schools and other services, such as health care over the next 10 years.

“You won’t see me with that kind of approach. Democrats and Republicans alike have said that approach is dead on arrival,” Mr. Deeds said.

Later in the 30-minute interview streamed live on the newspaper’s Web site, Mr. Deeds said he would support closing the so-called “gun-show loophole,” which exempts firearms sellers and traders at gun shows from conducting the background checks on buyers that federally licensed dealers must perform.

But the country lawyer and state senator from Bath County said he would sign legislation allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to go armed into bars, provided they don’t consume alcohol. Mr. Kaine vetoed a bill with the same provisions this year.

Mr. Deeds also said he favors repealing Virginia’s law limiting handgun purchases to one per month, legislation proposed and signed by Democratic former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder as a way to curb the state’s role as a major supplier of guns along the East Coast. Mr. Deeds, then in the House of Delegates, opposed that bill, one factor in his still-frosty relationship with Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, who served from 1990 to 1994.

“At that time, there was evidence that guns involved in crimes in New York had come from Virginia. Since then, I have seen various studies that have indicated that I was correct, that it’s not done much to slow the flow of firearms from Virginia,” Mr. Deeds said.

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