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Democratic Congressman Criticizes Kaine

Anita Kumar

In a stern letter today, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized Gov. Tim Kaine for being slow in spending the state's share of federal stimulus money for transportation.

In Virginia, construction has started on about 17 percent of the millions of dollars worth of transportation projects -- making the state last in the nation to spend its money.

Oberstar sent a letter to states that were slow to spend their money in August, urging them to do so immediately "to create and sustain family-wage jobs" to help the nation recover from the worst recession since the 1930s. Some states moved quickly in starting projects.

"Regrettably, Virginia is not among these states,'' Oberstar wrote. "Based on the state progress reports submitted to the committee in September 2009, Virginia has fallen behind other states in putting to work its Recovery Act highway formula funds."

This summer, we reported that Virginia submitted lists of shovel-ready projects to the federal government after the other 49 states had.

The letter from the Minnesota Democratic to Kaine, his party's national leader, drew swift response from Virginia Republicans.

"This is the result of having a governor who is more concerned with traipsing around the country tipping wine glasses with the Democrat elite to raise money for his national party," said Pat Mullins, chairman of the state Republican party. "If Creigh Deeds wants to run on the Kaine legacy, he can have it."

Kaine responded to Oberstar hours later. In a letter, Kaine explained that state officials worked as quickly as they could to devise a list of transportation projects that could use stimulus dollars after receiving public input.

Other states were able to start work immediately because they already had construction underway or about to be started. But in recent months Virginia has lacked the money to spend on those types of projects. Instead, the state has concentrated on maintenance, such as fixing potholes and cutting grass in medians, which are not covered by the stimulus.

Kaine said the state has met federal requirements for obligating and reporting its money. By the middle of September, he wrote, the U.S. Department of Transportation ranked Virginia in the midrange of states for obligating stimulus cash to projects. By the end of September, he said, Virginia had 93 approved highway stimulus projects worth $389 million.

"While Virginia might appear to fall behind other states according to the committee's calculations, we assure you the commonwealth is implementing funds according to the intent of the legislation by creating new jobs with accountability and transparency," Kaine wrote.

By Anita Kumar  |  October 2, 2009; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Timothy M. Kaine  
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