Gilmore Revises Transportation Package
RICHMOND, Feb. 13. Objections to Gov. James S. Gilmore III's plan to use tobacco settlement money for road and transit construction convinced him to retool his $2.5 billion transportation package today so that $150 million of the tobacco money goes to pa
The move does not change the size of the six-year transportation package, because the money shifted to pay for health care needs would be replaced by increased borrowing in anticipation of federal transportation funding.
Such borrowing and money from Virginia's share of the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies form the core of Gilmore's transportation plan, which supporters hope will help pay for such projects as a rail route to Dulles International Airport.
Today's move signals the willingness of Gilmore (R) to negotiate with lawmakers to get some form of his administration's highest-profile initiative through the General Assembly this session.
Late last week, key committees in the House and the Senate sharply rebuked Gilmore's transportation plan, sending administration officials scrambling through the weekend to try to broker a deal that could survive.
"This was all about a compromise," said Finance Secretary Ronald L. Tillett. "It was a matter of listening to what was being stated."
Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, predicted the new version will have a better chance of passing.
"These revisions have been crafted to meet some of the objections," he said.
Gilmore's transportation plan is under attack from members of both parties and several regions. Nearly every aspect of it has legislative critics, and the opposition has at least a half-dozen alternative plans.
But complaints about the use of the tobacco settlement were the loudest of the several objections.
Virginia already plans to use half of its settlement money to help tobacco farmers and their communities and 10 percent to fight youth smoking. The rest would be used for a one-time payment of nearly $600 million, under Gilmore's plan.
But doctors and health advocates argued strenuously in favor of dedicating a large portion of the settlement for health care needs as many other states have done. In today's compromise, Gilmore proposed using $450 million of the tobacco settlement for transportation and $150 million for health care.
The compromise picked up at least one supporter on the divided House Appropriations Committee, which voted 16 to 13 Friday night to reject Gilmore's plan. The split was largely along party lines, but the opponents included four Republicans--one of whom announced today that he will switch his vote because of the Gilmore plan's new emphasis on health care. The $150 million would be used for one-time expenses such as capital projects in the area of health, mental health and long-term care.
"With all our health care needs, we can't let all that [tobacco] money go to transportation," said Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), the committee member who plans to change his vote to support the new Gilmore plan. "A hundred and fifty million dollars starts to put a little bit of funds that way."
But another Republican, Del. Harvey B. Morgan (Gloucester), said the new plan still doesn't go far enough in funding health care.
"It's better, but it doesn't change my mind," Morgan said. "I'm interested in more of the money going to health care."
The drive for a massive new package of transportation funding also faces hurdles in the Senate, where Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Fredericksburg), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, is working on his own transportation plan.
He said today that he wants a plan that, like the state budget, covers only the next two years--not the six sought by Gilmore and most Northern Virginia lawmakers. Chichester said this legislature should be reluctant to tie the hands of future ones.
"Anything anyone here proposes beyond two years would be subject to another General Assembly and another governor's whim," Chichester said.