Bolling urges Virginia Chamber of Commerce to back roads plan
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling urged Virginia Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday to get behind Gov. Bob McDonnell's $4 billion road plan.
"It's not perfect and does not meet long-term needs" but it is the most viable plan to meet the state's immediate transportation needs, Bolling told about 200 chamber officials attending the annual Chamber Day at the Richmond Marriott.
The Virginia Chamber of Commerce's board was to meet today to decide whether to endorse the proposal, which would involve borrowing $2.9 billion over the next three years.
"Ask the opponents what their plan is," Bolling said.
The proposed debt received a stamp of approval later in the day from a bond expert who told the House Appropriations Committee that the state has ample debt capacity, plus a good reputation for fiscal conservatism.
Steven J. Kantor, managing director of Dallas-based FirstSouthwest, an investment firm, said Virginia's AAA bond rating should enable it to get a favorable interest rate on any bonds it sells. Virginia is among 15 states with a AAA bond rating and that rating is not likely to change, Kantor said.
Kantor is a contract adviser to the state Treasury Board.
Virginia recently changed its debt capacity model after 19 years. Kantor said that was a wise move that better reflects economic realities.
Some Democrats on the committee worried that this was not the time for the state to issue more debt, particularly when the federal government is going to have to start cutting back. Virginia receives substantial investments from the military and from its proximity to Washington.
Citing a Southwest Virginia saying, Del. Clarence E. Phillips, D-Dickenson, said "a greedy pig gets killed, a hungry pig gets fed."
But Kantor said interest rates are so low and highway-construction costs are so low that this is a good time to issue highway debt.
While Bolling and Kantor were promoting the McDonnell plan, Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the plan involves "too much borrowing and debt reminiscent of what got our households and nation into trouble over the last decade."
Schwartz said scarce highway resources should be used to fix existing infrastructure first. The Sierra Club and Piedmont Environmental Council also weighed in against the McDonnell plan.
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