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Posted at 4:31 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Strong bipartisan majority in Senate adopts governor's transportation plan

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

The Democratic-led Virginia Senate handed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) a major victory Monday as the chamber passed a bill to accelerate about $3 billion in debt financing to fund road and transit projects around the state, on a vote of 34 to 6.

The bill leaves intact the core of a transportation plan McDonnell proposed that he said would allow the state to jump-start construction on 900 projects.

The proposal received strong bipartisan support, overcoming suggestions from some Democrats earlier in the legislative session that the state would not have the debt capacity to support the spending. The package would accelerate the issuance of $1.8 billion in bond spending originally authorized in 2007 and would allow the state to borrow $1.2 billion supported by future federal outlays.

The vote came after a lengthy debate in which Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D), who clashed frequently with McDonnell over transportation when he ran against him for the state's top job in 2009, peppered sponsor Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol) with questions casting doubt on whether, in the future, the state can count on the federal highway funds necessary to support some of the funding.

He was joined by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), who said that he could not support the borrowing in the bill and that he feared rural areas would be disadvantaged by the bill's creation of a new infrastructure bank that would fund projects outside the state's normal funding formulas.

But the bill received the support of most senators in both parties, including Sen. Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who said he believed the bill would do more good than harm, though he noted that it largely would change the speed at which the state will spend on roads, rather than bring additional funding for transportation.

"People need to get over that -- it's not new money," Saslaw said after the vote.

But he said he was convinced that it made sense to spend today, when interest rates and construction prices are low and workers need jobs.

In a statement, McDonnell applauded the Senate's action.

"With each new vote in the General Assembly recognizing the merits of our transportation program, we are moving closer to jumpstarting needed transportation projects that will reduce congestion, create jobs and open additional parts of the Commonwealth to economic development while creating a rail operating and capital fund to ensure the continuation of Virginia's passenger rail system," he said.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 7, 2011; 4:31 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate, Transportation  
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