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Bob McDonnell says he can raise $500m for roads, but won't say how

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday that he has a plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, but he didn't say whether the plan would require him to raise taxes.

McDonnell said he would submit a plan to Virginia lawmakers in coming weeks that would raise $500 million a year for transportation projects by 2018. That would allow the state to stop using funds set aside for road construction on maintenance of existing roads instead. Since 2002, the state has shifted $3.3 billion from construction to maintenance, McDonnell said.

"It is now time to address our transportation funding challenges in the state. I don't think I can wait any longer," McDonnell said. "I don't think I can continue to recruit businesses to Virginia ... unless we can get a handle on that problem."

The governor would not say how he would raise the money but said last month that indexing the gas tax to inflation is "one of the things we're evaluating." The state's gas tax been set at 17.5 cents per gallon since 1986.

Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton told The Washington Examiner that the governor also will lay out a plan to raise money for trains and other transit.

"I will ask the General Assembly not to leave town this year until they get something done," McDonnell said.

But McDonnell admitted the money would not be enough to fully fund the state's wish list of billion-dollar projects, saying the state will continue to rely on partnerships with private companies to build big projects.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, a Democrat, said McDonnell's plan wouldn't be enough to avert a "transportation funding crisis."

"It's not enough to solve the problem, but it sure is moving in the right direction. Stopping the hemorrhaging that goes from construction into maintenance I think is a critical first step," Bulova said. But "more will be needed."

Any tax increases or new taxes that McDonnell might propose to fund roads could be a tough sell with his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly, particularly at a time when the state is bracing for federal tax increases and deeper spending cuts that could weaken the state's economy.

"We have unique budget challenges this year, many of them imposed on us from Washington," said Del. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean. "I think people throughout the state are already looking at the problems regarding pretty substantial trillion-dollar tax increases by the president, so looking at additional ones when we're already going to be hit is certainly a tough thing."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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