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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 12/10/2010

Good news on roads from Richmond

By Peter Galuszka

Imagine my surprise with morning when I opened my newspaper and discovered that Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is really, at heart, a Keynesian.

The Republican governor has tried to followed the GOP's script in his so-far rocky first year by paying lip service to tax relief and being wary of budget blow-outs. After all, Virginia will be paying more than ever to service its $9 billion in debt, including an estimated $594 million in 2012.

He's reached a budget surplus wtih smoke-and-mirrors approaches while two of his schemes to raise money for the state's troubled transportation system, namely selling off ABC stores and pushing offshore oil drilling, have been stymied.

That makes McDonnell's news all the more stunning. He's now planning on spending $400 million immediately on roads and bridges while borrowing another $2.9 billion over the next three years for more transportation needs. Of this, some $150 million will come from last year's budget surplus and $250 million that an audit revealed the Virginia Department of Transportation already has.

McDonnell's justification and that of his transportation chief, Sean Connaughton, is that construction costs and bond financing are cheaper than they have been in decades and that there are bargains to be had.

Actually, I tend to side with them on this. Virginia's road needs are significant if the state is to continue to position itself for growth not just tomorrow but in the coming years and decades. Building roads now will mean more jobs now, not some years down the pike. Despite what seems to be the "in" thinking among Republicans and many Democrats, you can't completely toss John Maynard Keynes out with the baby's bathwater, anyway. He does make sense. And we need jobs.

The proposals would create a state infrastructure bank with $400 million in surplus and other funds. That's not a bad idea; many countries around the world have created similar institutions to fund transportation needs. Changes in state bond laws would also be needed.

While I like the idea of stopping the moaning about deficits and debts and getting on with projects that could enhance the state's chances for prosperity down the road, there is some concern about McDonnell's "toss-the-dart" policymaking. It tends to show that McDonnell's a second-stringer when it comes to governing.

What's happened is that Connaughton, one of the few serious pros in McDonnell's administration, has convinced the governor to get off the dime after his two other transportation funding schemes went sour. So we'll finally be getting some action, and that deserves applause.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | December 10, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, taxes, traffic, transportation  
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While keeping up the maintenance on our current road infrastructure is welcome. McDonnell still shows a lack of understanding when it comes to how public/non-vehicular transportation can help relieve congestion issues. If he can come up with a comprehensive plan that recognizes that private vehicles aren't and shouldn't be the only transportation choice for Va. commuters.

Posted by: cmerchan | December 12, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

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