Monday, August 15, 2005
Kilgore unveils transportation funding plans
Many state government officials and business leaders have identified the long-term transportation funding shortfall as a crisis that demands action.
The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog
From The Roanoke Times
But independent candidate Russ Potts and a veteran GOP legislator drew boisterous ovations later when they spoke critically about a key component of Kilgore's plan - using money from the state's general operating fund for transportation projects. Transportation issues dominated Sunday afternoon sessions held by the Virginia Association of Counties at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel. Kilgore and Potts addressed local government officials in separate sessions. Democratic candidate Tim Kaine will speak to the group this morning.
Kilgore also discussed his plan to cap increases in real estate assessments, acknowledging that many of the local government officials listening to him took a dim view of his proposal. But he cited transportation as an area where his agenda differed greatly from his rival candidates.
Many state government officials and business leaders have identified Virginia's long-term transportation funding shortfall as a crisis that demands action. A recent state-commissioned study concluded that highway construction revenue alone will fall $2.8 billion short of the state's needs over the next 20 years if lawmakers fail to make transportation funding changes.
Kilgore, the former attorney general, said he would boost transportation funding by increasing fines for serious driving violations, making greater use of public-private partnerships and allowing regional transportation authorities to control some road-building and generate revenue. He also said he will make the transportation program eligible for more money from the state's general fund, which pays for basic services such as schools, public safety and health care.
"It's time we treat transportation as a necessity, not a nicety," Kilgore said.
Kilgore also reminded his audience that he would oppose tax increases unless they are approved by voters in a referendum. But he criticized Kaine for ruling out new revenue sources for highways until the state passes a constitutional amendment safeguarding the transportation trust fund.
Kilgore could have a hard time winning legislative support for steering general fund dollars toward transportation, a concept that has many critics in the GOP-controlled Senate. During a panel discussion on transportation held after Kilgore's speech, Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham, said flatly that "general fund money cannot be used for transportation."
"If transportation starts competing with education, health care and all of the other things we do in the general fund, somebody's going to lose big-time. I bet you it's transportation," said Hawkins, a Kilgore supporter who is chairing a special Senate committee charged with developing a transportation funding strategy.
Potts hammered Kilgore and Kaine during his remarks, which drew a standing ovation. Potts, a veteran state senator from Winchester, said neither major-party candidate has offered a meaningful transportation funding plan. Potts said he will unveil his after Labor Day, and strongly hinted that it will call for tax increases.
"We're going to say: This is what we're going to build, this is what it's going to cost, and this is how we're going to pay for it," Potts said.
Potts also criticized Kaine and Kilgore for promoting plans to limit increases in real estate taxes that are levied by counties. Kaine wants to give localities the authority to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of homes and farms from the real estate tax. Kilgore wants to cap increases in real estate assessments at 5 percent per year.
"That real estate tax revenue belongs to you," Potts said, drawing cheers. "Keep it there. Don't mess with it."
Paula Burnette, the chairwoman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, said the gubernatorial candidates' focus on real estate taxes concerns her because they are targeting her county's primary revenue source. She said the candidates should instead pay attention to revenue sources that state government controls.
"Stay out of my sandbox," she said. "I've got a little shovel and a pail. You've got all those other toys."
None of the local government officials questioned Kilgore about his proposed property assessment cap. But Kilgore acknowledged that most of his audience had little regard for it.
"I know my real estate plan is not popular in this room," Kilgore said. "But it is something we must do for Virginia's homeowners."