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Rest stops to reopen, McDonnell pledges

Rosalind Helderman

Virginia highway rest stops shuttered to save money in the economic recession will reopen within 90 days after the January start of Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell's term in office, McDonnell told state reporters and editors in Richmond on Tuesday.

McDonnell, who had promised during his campaign for governor that he would reopen the stops, said he will announce his plans to accomplish the goal "either before or shortly after" his Jan. 16 Inauguration and complete the task within three months.

McDonnell said he took part in a meeting on the issue Monday to examine a number of options to allow for the 18 stops to reopen, which outgoing Gov. Timothy M. Kaine had ordered closed to save the state $9 million. Those options include using nonviolent prison labor to staff the sites, initiating an "adopt a stop" program for private companies and shifting funds within the transportation department.

"I fully intend to keep the campaign pledge and have it done in 90 days," he said.

For more than an hour, McDonnell fielded questions on a wide range of topics from about 60 journalists attending an annual orientation session hosted by the Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association in preparing for the start of the annual legislative session in January.

McDonnell acknowledged he will take the reins of state government in a trying economic time but said repeatedly that he plans to use the necessity of cutting spending as an opportunity to find creative ways to run government more efficiently. A tax increase, he said, is not on the table, and he said he has requested that Kaine not include one in the budget he will submit to lawmakers next week, including adjustments to car tax relief. After McDonnell takes office, he will propose amendments to Kaine's spending plan.

"I can only express my request to the governor and ask that he consider it, so he doesn't put me in a position where we have to do some significant additional things," he said. "I said very clearly during the campaign and since then that I'm not going to raise taxes. And repealing significant tax reductions, like the car tax cut, I would view as a tax increase on the citizens."

Providing the hint of a possible area of compromise with Democrats who control the state Senate, McDonnell did not rule out the possibility, however, of phasing out certain tax credits to obtain new revenue.

"I'm not looking at that myself right now," he said. "If the General Assembly came up with some ideas, I'd certainly be willing to take a look at them, particularly if there was proof the credits do anything to promote the desired goal or to promote economic development."

At a panel earlier in the day, Sen. Janet Howell, a leading Democratic budget writer, had suggested eliminating some tax credits as a way to boost state coffers.

And McDonnell also pledged that, despite the down economy, he plans to put forward a proposal to provide new funding for transportation within his first year in office. He said a transition subcommittee is examining how other states have gone about privatizing state-run liquor stores to develop a plan to do the same in Virginia.

His mandate to the working group: Maximize revenue from the sales of the stores; come up with a way to replicate the continuing revenue the state now receives from alcohol sales; find a way to help the state's 2,500 ABC employees transition to the private sector.

McDonnell said he had not decided whether he might call a special session to deal with the issue.

"It's a long year," he said. "I haven't decide yet ... I only want to take on what I can well. I haven't even hired a secretary of transportation yet. But I'll keep you posted."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  December 8, 2009; 3:55 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate , Transportation  
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Comments

As a woman who drives alone and as a decent human being, I can tell the future Gov that I will NOT stop at "Rest Stops" that are staffed by "prison labor." Violent or "non-violent. The idea is repugnant.

Also -- I'm sorry, future Gov -- getting rid of "tax credits," is RAISING TAXES. You can put your fingers in your ears and sing, "La, la, la -- but you can't change reality.

And, finally, VA might benefit, short-term from liquor store sales short-term (and I don't mind the idea of getting rid of ABC stores in general) -- but to do it to keep from having to make difficult and honest economic decisions is only setting up our Commonwealth for future problems.

But, of course, the Right will keep quiet about all of this because McDonnell NOW says he likes Caribou Barbie!

Posted by: rebeccajm | December 9, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

While non-violent prisoners can be supervised in work outside the jail, it's not good policy to have them interact with the public in a setting such as a rest stop. Non-violent also includes those jailed for drug convictions. The truckers may love it but Ma, Pa, and the 2 kids on their way to Virginia Beach may not. This appears to be a non-starter.

Selling the state liquor stores is short term gain. The only way to do this and still get the same revenue from private sales is to RAISE TAXES on liquor. Ooops! Can't do that! Also, all the tax money would go back to Richmond with none of it remaining in the localities in which the ABC Stores operate as it does now. I guess that will be the counties' problem.

Sounds like McDonnell will be another 'slight-of-hand' governor like ol' Jim Gilmore.

Posted by: rmg4369 | December 11, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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