The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Kaine visits Luray, talks about transportation plan; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

LURAY — Gov.-elect Tim Kaine will roll out his plan to fix the state’s ailing transportation system early next month, and it will likely include spending surplus dollars on roads.

Kaine was in the Northern Shenandoah Valley on Thursday taking care of some unfinished business — trying to wrap up visits to every school district in the state in his four years as lieutenant governor.

The Democrat visited pupils and teachers at Luray Elementary School, where he read to a pre-kindergarten class, saw a technology demonstration in a third-grade classroom and spoke with teachers.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Kaine said his administration would be ready to unveil his plan to fix road problems around the state in January.

Kaine has said his administration will draw strong connections between land-use and transportation, but hasn’t gone into a great deal of specifics yet, other than to say he’d veto new transportation funding that isn’t set aside in a “lockbox.”

“I think this year what you’re going to see is the use of most surplus dollars for transportation,” Kaine said.

Virginia ended fiscal 2005 with a $544 million balance and is projected to end this fiscal year with $860 million more.

Filling up Virginia’s “rainy day” fund and paying toward the state’s Water Quality Improvement Fund will take up most of the fiscal 2005 surplus, but the balance will likely be put toward transit projects.

Kaine said he wanted to go around the state and listen to the public on transportation issues for the same reason he wanted to see school systems — to find out what people are thinking outside of Richmond before rolling out a plan.

“We had a big budget battle over education funding,” he said. “That’s what it was about in 2004.”

“It was so valuable to be able to look at virtually every senator and say, ‘Look, I’ve been in the schools in your district. I’m not talking out of a budget book or a newspaper. I’ve been in your district. I’ve been in the schools. You want to talk about the number of trailers?’” he said.

“It helped me make the case in 2004,” he said.

Kaine said he agrees with Republicans in the House of Delegates that Medicaid reform is a serious issue for the 2006 session, but he doesn’t yet have a plan of his own to fix the problem.

The health care plan for the state’s lower-income residents now takes up 14 percent of the general fund and is growing.
House GOP officials have said reform of the program will be one of their top priorities this year, and will hold a press conference Monday to roll out their initiative.

Kaine said his administration will bring a great deal of Medicaid expertise to the table, if not a specific plan.

“With the feds cutting funding, it’ll be one of the biggest issues I’ll deal with,” Kaine said. “Right now, I don’t have my own Medicaid reform plan, but I am putting together an administration that’s going to be full of Medicaid experts.”

Kaine also said he wanted to take a close look at a request from the Virginia Retirement System to boost the amount of money school systems pay into the program.

Officials say higher payments, which would cost some school systems more than $1 million per year in additional contributions, are needed to pay benefits promised to teachers and other public employees.

“I’ve got to kick the tires and be sure they’re being accurate with the data,” he said. “We don’t want to require everyone to put more money in and find out that we’ve over-funded the plan.”

The General Assembly reconvenes in January.