Deeds Radio Interview Yields No Specifics on Highways

Fri October 30, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Bob Lewis - AP POLITICAL WRITER




RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Democrat Creigh Deeds said in a recent radio interview that offering detailed positions on transportation funding would kill chances of passing them if he’s elected governor.

In an appearance on WTOP’s politics show, the state senator repeated his familiar mantra that “everything is on the table’’ for transportation funding, including new taxes.

Deeds has said clearly and repeatedly that he would sign into law new or increased taxes provided General Assembly Republicans and Democrats somehow reach an agreement on where the taxes would come from.

Each time, he has also ruled out using existing money from the state general fund, which pays for such state services as public education, health care for the needy and public safety.

But he has just as often refused to say what he would recommend as a means for generating what he said is more than $1 billion a year in money needed to maintain existing state roads and start new projects shelved as the transportation trust fund collections have declined.

“I’ve said that everything is on the table that has a nexus to transportation,’’ Deeds said in response to questions from listeners and from the program’s host, Mark Plotkin.

He said that locking himself in to specific plans tended to foreclose other options and turn them into political targets. He noted that Democratic Gov. Gerald Baliles never tried to dictate specifics in 1986 when he got the 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax still in place today enacted for highway construction.

Deeds noted questionable funding assumptions in the plan his Republican opponent, Bob McDonnell, offers. Deeds noted that McDonnell’s plan anticipates a $500 million windfall from privatizing Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores, even though assets of the Alcoholic Beverage Control department amount to only a small fraction of that.

He noted that McDonnell calls for royalties from offshore oil and natural gas drilling and imposing new tolls on the northbound lanes of Interstates 85 and 95 at the North Carolina line, both steps now forbidden under federal law. And he accused McDonnell again of wanting to plunder funding for public schools because he would use cash from the general fund.

“I’m not going to take money from the general fund, I’m not going to take money from education. The guy running against me ... acknowledges that we’ve got a transportation problem, but he proposes that we take $5.4 billion out of the general fund over the next 10 years,’’ said Deeds, the lone guest for the hourlong radio interview.

McDonnell rejected the claim that his plans would decrease state support for public schools, noting that the general fund can be used for any reason lawmakers choose, including transportation.

Deeds appears to suffer for his lack of specificity on transportation, a Washington Post poll suggests. The four-day survey of 1,001 likely voters showed 53 percent supported McDonnell to 44 percent for Deeds, and it showed that 12 percent more of the respondents trusted McDonnell more on transportation. The poll’s sampling error margin was plus or minus 3 percentage points.