Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was not exactly ecstatic, but he was mighty pleased as he described the proposed compromise on transportation funding at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday. The luncheon, which was rescheduled from December because of a state trooper funeral, offered perfect timing for Governor Kaine to advocate for passage of the compromise. “This is not a perfect solution,” he said, but it enables the state and localities to move forward on the number one issue that affects Northern Virginia’s residents and businesses.
The General Assembly will act on the compromise legislation next week, but the Governor added that the bill, HB 3202, with his amendments, retains much of what House Speaker William Howell (R-28) presented during the legislative session. The compromise still authorizes Northern Virginia localities to enact additional revenue sources to yield approximately $400 million annually for transportation purposes, but it removes devolution from the package. The original devolution language would have turned over road building, operations and maintenance, a state responsibility since 1932, to localities. That was a “poison pill” that local governments were not willing to swallow. Ultimately, the folks in Richmond heard the loud and united opposition from large and small counties alike, and devolution is gone. General Assembly members at the Alexandria luncheon, not surprisingly all Democrats, seemed to be supportive while still skeptical about how well it will work.
Before dashing off to a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Education to explain why No Child Left Behind disadvantages school districts with large numbers of children for whom English is not their birth language, Governor Kaine responded to a query about his Start Strong pre-kindergarten initiative. Statewide, he said, about 11 percent of four-year-olds are in pre-K, with another nine percent in Head Start programs. The Start Strong initiative would provide all four-year-olds in the commonwealth with the oppor-tunity for pre-K classes, from both public and private providers, setting them all on a path to success in school. It is expensive, Governor Kaine said, but the value of such programs already is established; six pilot programs would work out the details.
On the environmental front, Governor Kaine said that Virginia has been an “episodic” funder of Chesapeake Bay clean up efforts. Last year, the budget included $250 million for the Chesapeake Bay, mostly for grants to upgrade wastewater treatment plants. In budget discussions this year, staff argued that another $250 million would be hard to support since the previous $250 million was not yet all spent. Governor Kaine asked how many localities had applied for grants. “About 90” was the response. Then he asked, “what is the total amount of the requests?” “About $1.4 billion,” staff responded. The Governor had made his point about the need, and an additional $250 million for the Chesapeake Bay was included in the budget!