VIRGINIA

Governor Bob McDonnell gives 2013 State of the Commonwealth Address

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell used his annual address to the state Wednesday to make one big, last push for an enduring legislative legacy, urging lawmakers to enact his education and transportation reforms.

But he also included a surprise: an appeal to the 2013 General Assembly to pass bills that allow for nonviolent felons' civil rights to be automatically restored.

McDonnell last month began sketching out education reforms for teachers in kindergarten through senior year that condition a 2 percent raise on the enactment of new laws making underperforming faculty easier to fire.

On Tuesday, he disclosed his plan to replace Virginia's 17½-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax with a 0.8-cent increase in the state's 5 percent sales tax as a way to replenish dwindling highway maintenance funds.

Entering the final year of the non-renewable four-year term Virginia governors are uniquely allowed, McDonnell - a year ago a Republican vice presidential prospect - is still looking for a signature policy triumph for which he will be remembered.

He targeted the perennial issues of schools and the outdated and perpetually gridlocked web of state highways, particularly in the sprawling and populous Washington, D.C., suburbs, months ago, and is still searching for legislative consensus, particularly in a state senate where Democrats and Republicans hold 20 seats apiece.

In his budget, McDonnell has set aside nearly $59 million to help localities provide a raise for public school teachers, principals, librarians and other instructional personnel. While Democrats and the 60,000-member Virginia Education Association like the raise - the first for teachers in six years - the trick will be passing legislation that prolongs the probationary period for new teachers from three to five years and affords local school districts greater authority to dismiss educators with poor performance reviews.

"Good teachers will flourish," he said. "Poor ones will not."

McDonnell's transportation funding plan would make Virginia the first state without a direct tax on gasoline paid at the pump. It's the first major overhaul of the state's primary stream of transportation revenue since the per-gallon tax was levied 27 years ago. McDonnell noted that because that tax is tied to gasoline volume and not price, declining usage, greater automotive fuel efficiency and looming competition from emerging alternate fuel sources has eaten into its ability to sustain needed maintenance work, much less underwrite badly needed new projects.

"Do not send me a budget that does not include new transportation funding," he lectured legislators. "We are all out of excuses. We must act now."

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