With Virginia strapped for cash, Northern Virginia lawmakers, along with Gov. Bob McDonnell, are searching for new ways to pay for road repairs and construction, looking at everything from borrowing billions to giving free advertising to businesses in exchange for road maintenance. McDonnell's $4 billion transportation proposal has already hit roadblocks in the General Assembly, where some lawmakers argue that the plan relies too heavily on borrowed money. About $3 billion would be borrowed through the use of bonds. "To simply borrow money -- unless you have revenues to match that -- all you're doing is shifting the burden onto future taxpayers," said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.
To that end, Petersen is proposing legislation that would allow businesses to contract with the state Department of Transportation to maintain roads in exchange for being allowed to post free advertising signs along those roads.
"I'm just trying to think outside the box," he said.
McDonnell also proposed using a portion of the state sales tax collected in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to provide a total of $140 million a year for road projects in the two heavily congested regions.
Del. Tom Rust, R-Loudoun, who is carrying that bill in the House of Delegates, acknowledged that there would likely be concerns over redirecting sales tax revenues away from the state's general fund -- which traditionally funds programs like education, health care and public safety.
"Is it a total solution? No," said Rust. "But it's a pretty good first step, that's for sure."
Indeed, the state needs billions to fully fund its transportation needs. The Virginia Department of Transportation outlined $4.3 billion in projects around the state that could benefit from McDonnell's transportation agenda, which also includes creating an "infrastructure bank" to help localities pay for projects.
But with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House at odds over how to pay for roads, the prospect of a stalemate looms over the Capitol.
"It may be difficult to take money from the general fund for transportation," said Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, when asked about the sales tax proposal.
"I'm concerned about the borrowing, but I've pledged to keep an open mind," said Herring, who proposed legislation of his own that would mitigate congestion by giving employers tax breaks in exchange for allowing their employees to work from home, reducing the number of daily commuters on the region's highways.
Del. David Englin, D-Arlington, said he was taking a close look at part of McDonnell's bond plan and that it "could be part of the solution" as long as the state has a plan for repaying the money.