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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Potts introduces $2 billion plan to improve state transportation; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

It’s not a cheap plan, but H. Russell Potts Jr. says his $2 billion blueprint to fix transportation is the only one that will get traffic rolling again.

Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester turned independent gubernatorial candidate, rolled out his much anticipated transportation document at a press conference in Richmond on Monday.

And true to his word, everything is on the table.

The plan includes a potential for hikes of 1 percentage point in the general sales and motor vehicle sales taxes, interstate tolls, a $1 per pack tobacco tax, income tax increases for Virginians with an adjusted gross income of more than $100,000 per year and other increases.

Anyone who might “think there’s a free lunch and you’re going to build these roads for Green Stamps” is mistaken, Potts said in an interview after the press conference.

Still, at a cost of $2 billion per year, the fixes would cost $1.03 per licensed driver per day.

Much of the projects Potts say should be a priority are concentrated in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

“From a terrorism and transportation standpoint, we have tremendous vulnerability in Hampton Roads and the nation’s capital” area, Potts said. Evacuations would be difficult in the event of an attack or major hurricane.

But the valley hasn’t been left out.

“A key ingredient in the plan which we say we’ll start to work on July 1, 2006, is I-81,” Potts said.

Work could begin quickly on environmental impact statements for rail expansion and the addition of truck lanes at trouble spots along the 323-mile highway.

New distribution centers being built now by Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy will add more than 600,000 trucks per year to the corridor in the immediate future, he said.

It won’t be easy getting $2 billion in tax increases through the General Assembly.

The proposed tax increases are “basically a smorgasbord that we’d take to the General Assembly,” he said. Any combination could be used to get the required funding.

While 30 of 40 senators back action like he has recommended, Potts said, the House of Delegates is much more conservative when it comes to tax increases.

Friction between the two chambers held up the 2004 budget deal for weeks. But it can be done, thanks to support from the Senate, Potts said.

“We will be able to place enormous pressure on the House of Delegates,” he said.
Fiscal reality is on his side, he added.

“There was no way in the name of God that you can fix this out of the general fund,” he said. Any candidate that says they can fund transportation fixes out of the state’s common revenues isn’t telling the whole story.

“What are you going to cut out of higher education” and other spending priorities, he asked.

“Kilgore has a regional referendum plan” that could lead to do “eight-lane highways running into two-lane highways,” he said.

Potts also took a shot at Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who has said he wouldn’t support tax hikes for transportation until the money could be safeguarded from raids by the General Assembly.

“Kaine’s ‘Al Gore lockbox theory’” would force the problem on the next governor, Potts said.

Potts is set to debate Kaine today in McLean. Election Day is Nov. 8.