McDonnell to roll out mas­sive, costly agenda

Va. gover­nor feels ur­gency on jobs, roads, col­leges as ses­sion nears

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANITA KU­MAR

rich­mond — Vir­ginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plans a mas­sive spend­ing cam­paign that he said would un­clog state roads, award thou­sands more col­lege de­grees and spur job cre­ation, part of an ag­gres­sive leg­isla­tive agenda he is ex­pected to roll out this week.

McDonnell (R) will press law­mak­ers to ap­prove a se­ries of statewide projects he said would be paid in part through Vir­ginia’s $403 mil­lion bud­get sur­plus, $337 mil­lion in higher-than-ex­pected tax rev­enue, and $192 mil­lion gen­er­ated through cuts and sav­ings.

And in stark con­trast to other gov­er­nors, who are cut­ting bud­gets and slash­ing pay­rolls, McDonnell told The Washington Post that he plans to bor­row nearly $3 bil­lion over the next three years for trans­porta­tion projects and in­tends to spend an ad­di­tional $400 mil­lion to fix the state’s ail­ing roads, $58 mil­lion to help state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and $54 mil­lion to cre­ate jobs.

“When you only have four years to do things, you un­der­stand the clock is al­ways tick­ing,” said McDonnell, re­fer­ring to Vir­ginia law that makes it the only state in the nation where a gover­nor can’t suc­ceed him­self. “You have a sense of ur­gency to get things done.”

Democrats said that they share many of the Repub­li­can gover­nor’s pri­or­i­ties but that his trans­porta­tion pro­posal is filled with IOUs and his jobs plan is based on stim­u­lus money that will even­tu­ally run out. “His goals are sound, but his meth­ods for achiev­ing them are un­suc­cess­ful,” said Brian Mo­ran, chair­man of the Demo­cratic Party of Vir­ginia.

The gover­nor said he is aware that his leg­isla­tive pack­age is ham­strung by a di­vided Gen­eral Assem­bly — Repub­li­cans con­trol the House, but Democrats run the Se­nate — and the pres­sures of a loom­ing elec­tion in which all 140 leg­isla­tive seats are up for grabs.

But McDonnell said that if Democrats have bet­ter ideas, they should pro­pose them. “I am per­fectly will­ing to be bold and say ‘Here’s the prob­lem and here’s my so­lu­tion to fix it,’ ” McDonnell said dur­ing the in­ter­view in his Capi­tol Square of­fice. “You can’t fight some­thing with noth­ing.

And right now, I haven’t heard any al­ter­na­tives.”

A for­mer vet­eran leg­is­la­tor, McDonnell will sub­mit 130 mea­sures from his state agen­cies dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that be­gins Wed­nes­day, and even more from his of­fice that will rep­re­sent his top pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing a scaled-back plan to pri­va­tize state liquor stores. Del­e­gates have laughed that they are hav­ing trou­ble car­ry­ing the gover­nor’s bills while abid­ing by House rules to spon­sor only 15 bills each.

“He has a big agenda — tons of bills,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fair­fax). “And he painstak­ingly an­a­lyzes ev­ery­thing.”

Tack­ling roads

The gover­nor, the first Repub­li­can chief ex­ec­u­tive in eight years, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will also make larger pay­ments into the Vir­ginia Re­tire­ment Sys­tem. Much of the sur­plus is com­mit­ted by law to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup, K-12 ed­u­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion, but McDonnell de­cided to put more money into roads and give state em­ploy­ees a 3 per­cent bonus while mak­ing ad­di­tional pay­ments into the re­tire­ment sys­tem to en­sure its sol­vency.

He also plans to re­lease the sec­ond part of his trans­porta­tion pro­posal, which will in­clude both more funds for roads— but no tax in­crease — and a flurry of man­age­ment changes af­ter an au­dit of the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion found that hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars sat un­spent for years in var­i­ous ac­counts.

Ev­ery Vir­ginia gover­nor in mod­ern times has tried to tackle the state’s trans­porta­tion prob­lems, and McDonnell is no dif­fer­ent. He al­ready an­nounced he wants to spend $150 mil­lion from last year’s bud­get sur­plus and $250 mil­lion re­couped from the trans­porta­tion au­dit.

For years, the state has strug­gled to al­lo­cate trans­porta­tion fund­ing, with Democrats propos­ing tax in­creases and Repub­li­cans re­ject­ing all levy in­creases. Mean­while, Vir­ginia’s bil­lion-dol­lar short­fall in the trans­porta­tion bud­get has led to thou­sands of job cuts and hun­dreds of un­fin­ished projects.

“ There’s no sin­gle easy way out of the trans­porta­tion prob­lem,” said Del. Ti­mothy D. Hugo (RFair­fax), chair­man of House Repub­li­can Cau­cus. Leg­is­la­tors, he added, will find that they have to vote for a trans­porta­tion plan dur­ing an elec­tion year.

Democrats and con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans ini­tially op­posed tak­ing on more debt for roads, es­pe­cially af­ter a com­mit­tee of leg­isla­tive and gu­ber­na­to­rial staffers voted to tweak the model used to de­ter­mine the state’s an­nual debt ca­pac­ity. The state would be able to bor­row the same amount over a decade, but more money would be avail­able ini­tially un­der the new in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

“It’s too much,” said Del. Brenda L. Pogge (R-York). “We can’t af­ford it right now. We should not be bor­row­ing and spend­ing. We should sit tight and let the econ­omy get well.”

McDonnell flew to New York on Tues­day with Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors to meet with bond-rat­ing agen­cies about the state’s AAA rat­ing. They were told that the state was still on solid foot­ing.

Sen. R. Ed­ward

Houck (DSpot­syl­va­nia), who went on the trip, said McDonnell’s plan was “weigh­ing heav­ily’’ un­til the bond raters praised Vir­ginia in three sep­a­rate meet­ings. “It made the pro­posal a lot more palat­able,” Houck said.

‘Short four years’

McDonnell in­vites leg­is­la­tors to the Ex­ec­u­tive Man­sion to dis­cuss pol­icy and plans, in­cludes them in ad­vi­sory groups and was the first gover­nor to visit with bud­get ne­go­tia­tors on their own turf. But in re­cent months, sev­eral law­mak­ers have crit­i­cized him for not giv­ing them a heads up be­fore pro­pos­als are an­nounced.

Sen. Mary Mar­garet Whip­ple (D-Ar­ling­ton), chair­man of the Se­nate Demo­cratic Cau­cus, said that al­though most gov­er­nors have a learn­ing curve, that she was sur­prised given McDonnell’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the Gen­eral Assem­bly and as at­tor­ney gen­eral that he did not ac­com­plish as much as he did in his first year. “I would imag­ine maybe he’s a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed,” she said.

The gover­nor fin­ished his first ses­sion with mod­est vic­to­ries— a $50 mil­lion eco­nomic devel­op­ment pack­age, in­clud­ing pro­grams to lure busi­nesses to the state, and ed­u­ca­tion bills de­signed to in­crease the num­ber of char­ter schools, vir­tual schools and lab­o­ra­tory schools in Vir­ginia.

McDonnell con­sid­ered but did not call for spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sions on trans­porta­tion and govern­ment re­form last year. And he at­tributes his mod­est agenda last year to time spent learn­ing the job, mak­ing hun­dreds of ap­point­ments and help­ing bal­ance a bud­get with a $4.2 bil­lion short­fall. Last year’s ses­sion started with Ti­mothy M. Kaine (D) in the gover­nor’s man­sion and writ­ing the state bud­get.

“I just didn’t think with the econ­omy be­ing what it was last year that it was the right time,” McDonnell said. “Be­cause we’ve got more sta­bil­ity now in the bud­get and more progress on jobs ... it gives me more time to be bold and en­er­getic on get­ting some of these other ma­jor re­forms passed. I couldn’t take on trans­porta­tion, higher ed­u­ca­tion, things that needed some other new in­vest­ment. This year, I can.”

Whip­ple said McDonnell spent much of last year “fix­ated” on his un­pop­u­lar pro­posal to pri­va­tize the state’s 76-year-old liquor whole­sale, dis­tri­bu­tion and re­tail mo­nop­oly. But he with­drew it af­ter con­sid­er­able op­po­si­tion by Democrats and some Repub­li­cans, in part be­cause it would bring in $47 mil­lion less a year for the state.

He then hired a na­tional fi­nan­cial man­age­ment com­pany to re­vamp the plan, and he is ex­pected to pro­pose next week that the state pri­va­tize only its 332 liquor stores.

“Very few peo­ple have pub­licly or pri­vately de­fended the fact that we have a govern­ment mo­nop­oly, but how you do the de­tails . . . is where some of the con­flicts come in, and it’s not easy,’’ McDonnell said.

McDonnell ac­knowl­edged that it would be eas­ier to get his pri­or­i­ties through the Gen­eral Assem­bly next year if he’s suc­cess­ful in help­ing the Repub­li­cans win back con­trol of the state Se­nate in Novem­ber. But that doesn’t mean he’s not go­ing to try to get his leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties through this year — af­ter all, the clock is tick­ing.

“I think that you’ve got a short four years to try to im­prove the qual­ity of life for cit­i­zens, solve prob­lems, find so­lu­tions,” said McDonnell, who is look­ing to­ward his legacy and has been men­tioned as a po­ten­tial vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date when his term ex­pires in 2014. “Com­ing up on a year, I re­al­ize I’ve got an in­creas­ingly short amount of time to get some of these ideas done,” he said As of Sun­day, it’s 1,097 days.


Vir­ginia Gov. BobMcDon­nell said: “When you only have four years to do things, you un­der­stand the clock is al­ways tick­ing. You have a sense of ur­gency to get things done.’’

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