- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Candidates running for the Virginia Senate in Loudoun County districts largely agreed at a forum Tuesday on the importance of finding a dedicated stream of revenue for the region’s perpetually clogged roads and completing the Dulles Metrorail project — though how to pay for each was another matter.

Republican Dick Black, who is running against Democrat Shawn Mitchell for the open 13th District seat, suggested that the state change the way surplus money is allocated so that more is devoted to transportation.

Of the $544.8 million in surplus funds from this past fiscal year, $67.2 million — or two-thirds of the unappropriated balance — went to the transportation trust fund.

Patricia Phillips, who is running against state Sen. Mark R. Herring, Loudoun Democrat, in the 33rd District, suggested reprioritizing money already in the state budget.

Democrat Barbara Favola, running in the 31st District — which extends from Arlington, snaking along the Potomac River through Fairfax and into Loudoun — emphasized the need for more transit projects in the region. However, her opponent, Republican Caren Merrick, echoed a campaign theme from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 run, saying that offshore revenue could be an option.

Democratic Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb introduced legislation in July to speed up the timetable for oil and natural-gas exploration off Virginia’s coast. The Obama administration halted such offshore-lease sales that had been scheduled after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On the issue of health care, though, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Black drew sharp distinctions on how to control costs for businesses as the state moves forward with implementing a health-benefits exchange as part of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

“As a small-business owner, I really understand how much health care costs,” said Mr. Mitchell, the president and chief executive officer of Modern Mechanical, an Ashburn-based HVAC, plumbing, generator and solar business. “I really do think we need to have government partnering with our business community to help decrease as much as possible the burden in implementing this plan.”

Mr. Black said free-market solutions to health care was the answer, describing so-called “Obamacare” as a “fundamental threat to the United States economy.”

“We’re talking about insuring 30 million additional people, theoretically at no cost,” he said. “And I would just ask anyone to try to insure one single employee at zero cost. It’s not going to work.”

In the second part of the forum, Ms. Favola, Mr. Herring, and Ms. Phillips agreed that Virginia should kick in more money for Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail project, which has been a recent bone of contention between Mr. McDonnell and local stakeholders.

Fairfax, Loudoun and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority have conditionally endorsed a plan from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to cut roughly $1 billion in costs from the $3.5 billion second leg of the project. Officials say Virginia has agreed in principle to commit at least $150 million in additional funding, but there has been no official announcement from the governor’s office.

“This project is critically important from a federal, state and regional perspective,” Mr. Herring said. “And let me be clear about this, too: Recently, the governor and [Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean] Connaughton announced the state would put $400 million to buy down tolls in Hampton Roads for a bridge tunnel project. It announced $500 million to buy down tolls on Route 460.

“If Virginia can put money like that to buy down tolls in other parts of the state, I’d like to see some come up here to buy down tolls on the [Dulles] Toll Road.”

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