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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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McDonnell says he’ll propose K-12 reforms for 2013, along with a transportation bill

Gov. Bob McDonnell is working on a couple of big issues for the upcoming legislative session, but staying mum on their details.

Talking to a group of journalists at AP Day at the Capitol Thursday, McDonnell said he’ll have proposals for K-12 education changes, as well as a transportation revenue bill that he’s mentioned before.

McDonnell said his education bill will be “robust” and focus on “teacher professionalism, compensation, accountability.”

That could be taken as a hint he’d revive last year’s failed bill on teacher contracts, which would have required teachers to undergo more stringent evaluations more frequently for their contracts to be renewed. That bill was hard-fought in the 2012 session, supported by those who said it wouldn’t hurt good teachers, and opposed by teacher groups who said the current system works.

McDonnell said his education proposals will also look at “expanded choice and competition” in schools, and try to enhance education in “STEM” areas — science, math and technology.

He declined to offer much more detail on his transportation proposal. McDonnell has said recently — and repeated on Thursday — that the legislature must enact transportation reforms in 2013 to provide more money for the state’s transportation system.

The problem, McDonnell has said, is that the gas tax — a flat per-gallon tax of 17.5 cents, unchanged since 1986 — buys much less now than it did in 1986, while road-building costs have increased steeply. In recent years, the state’s road maintenance needs have also siphoned off all new local road construction funding, since state law requires money to first go to maintenance before going to new construction.

He has said he won’t consider tax increases, but that the idea of indexing the gas tax — to inflation or another measure — is palatable. That would make the gas tax more like a percentage tax — the way the state sales tax and income taxes work — which would rise and fall with the economy.

McDonnell said at a transportation meeting on Wednesday that his proposal will generate at least $500 million a year in new revenue for transportation, money that would probably go to road maintenance, thus stopping the transfer of construction dollars to maintenance.

On Thursday he declined to elaborate on what “new” revenue means, beyond saying that he considers any money not now going to transportation to be “new” money. That could include using a portion of the state’s general fund for transportation. The state Senate has long opposed using general fund dollars for transportation, arguing that the general fund also pays for education and other major programs and can’t afford to lose money to roads.

“We’re still working out all the details,” McDonnell said.

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