Audit of VDoT finds $500M in transportation funds that went unspent during the last administration

Virginians – particularly we here in the northern part of the state – have been bombarded with a stream of commentary on transportation spending for years. It’s been delivered in a variety of ways but the bottom line is always the same: We don’t have the money. And unless you people vote to impose more taxes on yourselves we’re never going to have the money. The previous administration went so far as to threaten to close down 19 highway rest stops unless we coughed up more taxes. When we didn’t, former Gov. Kaine followed through and closed them. An audit of VDoT’s finances now shows that they had $500 million in funding that they never spent even while we were being told they were flat broke.

An inattentive Virginia transportation bureaucracy left nearly $500 million unspent last year as interstate rest stops were shuttered and maintenance projects deferred by emergency budget cuts, a private audit to be released Thursday shows.

The four-month review of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s finances shows that the recouped cash combined with steps to redirect other state funds will add $614 million to backlogged road maintenance and construction projects through June 2011.

And by 2016, the newfound cash, savings and efficiencies available for the state’s six-year road building and maintenance master plan will total nearly $1.5 billion, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton told The Associated Press.

In 2007, then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell pushed for an audit of VDoT. Gov. Kaine’s administration denied it. While running for Governor in 2009 McDonnell promised he’d perform that audit as soon as he was in office. Like many of his promises made on the trail, McDonnell has followed through. I guess we know why Kaine didn’t want that audit performed a couple of years ago.

The numbers involved here are staggering. This isn’t a matter of someone forgetting to report the accounting state of some petty-cash account. This is a half-billion dollars we’re talking about. Road maintenance programs and construction/upgrade projects have been literally shelved in the past few years for lack of funding. Critical infrastructure improvements have gone undone because, we were told, there was no money to do it. We already knew that VDoT wasn’t nearly as efficient with their funding as they should be. This just adds insult to the injury that not only were they inefficient with what we gave them, they were careless in even knowing how much that was.

Kaine is now trying to say this massive undiscovered money cache is proof of his good stewardship. Tell me something: if your accountant told you for years that his books showed you running deficits and, based on his reporting, you skipped making critical repairs to your house and car, would you be patting him on the back when it was discovered he had just lost track of piles of your cash? Yeah, I didn’t think so. That Kaine’s trying to pull this stunt just shows how clueless he is and how fortunate Virginia is that he’s no where near the money controls for the state any longer.

Read the Governor’s release on this matter to see some of the other findings. Don’t get me wrong – having an audit come back that finds that you have more cash than you thought beats the hell out of the reverse. But the double-hit of not getting the improvements and repairs done that we needed and – had we fallen for it – raising taxes as a result is just bad any way you slice it. I applaud Gov. McDonnell’s diligence in getting that audit done and Secretary of Transportation Connaughton’s transparency on the matter with the citizens of Virginia. I look forward to hearing more about how they’re fixing the issues that led to this finding.