$2.1 billion bond bill ties new capital spending to completing Capitol Square project

A $2.1 billion bond agreement adopted Friday would tie new capital spending to state contracts for a major Capitol Square overhaul, including the replacement of the General Assembly Building, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said he won’t allow to be built until the legislature expands health care coverage for uninsured Virginians.

The bond bill approved on a 38-1 vote by the Senate and a 91-3 vote by the House of Delegates would prohibit the release of money raised by new bonds for projects backed by McAuliffe — including a new state park in Stafford County, expansion of Western State Hospital in Staunton, and construction of a parking deck at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond — until the state signs construction contracts for projects authorized in a special session of the General Assembly in 2014.

“In essence, if we do not proceed with what we enacted two years ago, none of the projects … can proceed,” House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, told the House.

During that special session, the governor and leaders of the assembly money committees shook hands on a $300 million Capitol Square overhaul that McAuliffe had suspended in a bitter budget standoff over his unsuccessful attempt to expand health coverage with billions of dollars in federal funds under the Affordable Care Act.

A year ago, McAuliffe formally allowed state funds to pay for planning and engineering of a new General Assembly Building at North Ninth and East Broad streets and a parking deck on the opposite corner, but the governor’s office said again this week that he would not sign bonds to pay for construction of the project until the legislature expands health coverage for the uninsured.

The Capitol Square plan also includes renovation of Old City Hall.

State parks

The bond compromise reached Friday would raise about $300 million less than McAuliffe had proposed last fall, but the deal restores almost $40 million for state parks, including the initial phase of the new Widewater State Park on Aquia Creek in Stafford County, that the House had eliminated entirely in its proposal.

McAuliffe had sought $140 million in new capital spending for parks, including Biscuit Run in Albemarle County, which is not part of the final package.

Juvenile corrections

It also provides money only for planning a new juvenile correctional center the state wants to build in Chesapeake. It is part of a plan to transform Virginia’s juvenile justice system to rely more on community-based programs and smaller state facilities as a way to reduce the number of youths returning to the correctional system.

The new center most likely would replace the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center in Powhatan County. McAuliffe had sought up to $90.5 million to replace both Beaumont and the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Chesterfield County.

The package does not include more than $100 million that McAuliffe had sought to renovate and expand the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, which houses civilly committed sex offenders. However, Jones said the assembly could revisit the issue during the so-called veto session next month.

One of the bond issues authorized under the legislation also would allow construction of a $20.3 million expansion of Western State, a state mental hospital that could be crucial in an impending study to restructure the state’s mental health facilities.

It also would allow expansion of the state’s central forensic lab and chief medical examiner’s office in Richmond and replacement of the air-handling system at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

VCU projects

The largest of the bond issues, almost $1.4 billion through the Virginia College Building Authority, would pay for planned projects at colleges and universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University’s top two priorities: construction of a new building for the School of Allied Health Professions and expansion of the School of Engineering.

It also would pay for construction of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems in Prince George County through a VCU-led consortium.

The bond package includes money to plan for a new STEM laboratory building at VCU, as well as renovation of Sanger Hall on the medical campus and the Raleigh Building on the Monroe Campus.

The legislation does not specify dollar amounts for projects to protect the competitive bidding process, but VCU said last year that it is seeking about $120 million in state funds for the allied health sciences building and engineering school expansion, and $76 million for the STEM lab.

Colleges and universities

The higher education bonds also include money to expand the Nicholas Center and renovate Bird Hall at John Tyler Community College in Chester; build the first two phases of a fine arts center at the College of William and Mary; renovate academic buildings at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech; and build an addition to the Jepson Science Center at the University of Mary Washington.

Richmond-area projects

Two other small bond issues include money for renovation of the Robinson House and construction of an art conservatory laboratory at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; a supplement for the Virginia War Memorial; and construction of event space at the Science Museum — all in Richmond.

In addition, the package would allow planning to proceed for expanding the Division of Consolidated Labs; renovating Morson Row on Governor Street at Capitol Square; replacing the Daniel Gym at Virginia State University in Ettrick; and building a Center for Innovation and Educational Development at Richard Bland Community College near Petersburg.

Port of Virginia

The biggest initiative under the bond package provides $350 million that McAuliffe had sought to expand capacity of the Norfolk International Terminal at the Port of Virginia. The Senate had proposed to use $135 million in transportation trust funds in addition to bonds to pay for the project, but the House prevailed in financing the expansion entirely through bonds.

The package also includes: $59 million to pay for wastewater facilities to reduce direct pollution of waterways; $20 million for local stormwater assistance grants the Senate had sought in its proposal; and $5.25 million to turn a library at Fort Monroe into a visitor center.

Those projects, as well as expansion of the port and the two small bond issues, would not be tied to contracts to replace the General Assembly Building.

In addition to restricting release of bond money until the state secures contracts for the Capitol Square projects, the proposal would limit the amount of debt the state could issue in a year and expand legislative oversight of how the money is spent. It would require quarterly reports to the leaders of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

By MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times-Dispatch