Jones reviews legislative session

Published 10:31 pm Friday, March 29, 2013

Though he initially resisted a proposal to overhaul Virginia’s transportation funding mechanisms during the 2013 General Assembly session, Delegate S. Chris Jones of Suffolk wound up being instrumental in the passage of historic legislation that is expected to put billions of dollars in new money in the state’s coffers for road construction.

During a post-legislative breakfast on Thursday, Jones described the contentious process through which the state legislature and governor finally arrived at a mechanism to fund highway construction in the commonwealth.

“The governor was insistent on putting a transportation package out,” Jones told a group of supporters. “I was not overwhelmed with his proposal, but I commended him for putting a bill forward.”

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Jones led a conference committee of delegates and state senators that was tasked with finding a compromise between bills that had passed their respective houses. They were additionally cognizant of the fact that the governor would have the final say on whatever bill came out of that conference.

The complex bill that emerged from the conference committee will result in “$850 million (a year), statewide, in real money,” Jones said, along with $220 million set aside for Hampton Roads projects and $340 million for Northern Virginia projects.

Acknowledging the new and increased taxes that will produce the revenue, Jones said, “It wasn’t a very popular topic within my caucus, as you can imagine. There was no lack of people trying to shoot down what we were trying to do. Nobody who follows this gave us a 1-percent chance of success.”

Among the major Hampton Roads projects Jones expects the new revenue to help fund are the widening of both Route 58 in Suffolk and I-64 on the Peninsula.

Jones said he would revive a bill next year that he had submitted calling on the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to perform a comprehensive study of transportation priorities and funding throughout the commonwealth.

Another JLARC study requested by the legislature, expected in December, should help legislators get a better handle on the commonwealth’s port system, Jones said.

With the signing of a port reform bill that reorganizes oversight and operation of the system, along with a decision this week to retain state control of the ports, Jones seemed to have a positive outlook regarding that state resource.

“I’m very pleased with the Port Authority’s action on Tuesday” to deny proposals to privatize port operations, he said.