Streams

Where Did I Put That $1.5 Billion? Oh! There It Is...

Monday, September 27, 2010 - 06:42 PM

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) It may sound hard to believe, but the state of Virginia just found $1.5 billion in transportation funding it didn't know it had.

The money appeared after an audit of Virginia's Department of Transportation (VDOT) initiated by Governor Bob McDonnell (R). The audit found what McDonnell described as a windfall of unused and underutilized cash.

Among its findings:

*Amid a severe recession - in which the state laid off more than 1,000 VDOT employees, and in which the state controversially closed dozens of highway rest stops because it couldn't find $9 million to keep them open - VDOT was sitting on a cash reserve fund totaling $200 million. McDonnell proposes drawing down this reserve fund by more than half.

*VDOT has been regularly allocating funds to inactive local construction projects. These projects were only partially funded so they weren't under construction, but the funding they did have sat idle.

*After the recession began, VDOT became very hesitant to commit funds to new projects. For example, in fiscal 2009, almost $1.6 billion was available to VDOT for maintenance projects. But it only spent three quarters of that, carrying the rest over to the following fiscal year.

McDonnell called these fiscal practices "unacceptable," and blamed his predecessor, Tim Kaine, currently the head of the Democratic National Committee.

But Democrats are taking what could be a damning indictment and trying to turn it into a badge of honor. Kaine said in a statement that the audit shows his "tight-fisted" polices helped VDOT weather the financial crisis. And State Senator Dave Marsden, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, questioned why McDonnell would want to reduce VDOT's reserve fund when that money gets used for emergencies like blizzards, hurricanes, etc.

So, to recap: McDonnell, a Republican, wants to spend money faster and is criticizing Democrats for being too fiscally timid. Democrats, meanwhile, are criticizing McDonnell for being a spendthrift. Got it?

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