Cuccinelli, who unveiled his “economic growth and Virginia jobs plan” at a frozen-yogurt shop in Richmond, offered the proposal as he seeks to define himself as a candidate primarily interested in promoting business and job growth. Until now, he has been most widely known for high-profile battles targeting rules at abortion clinics and “federal overreach.”
Democrats have branded him an ideologue for those efforts and mocked what they said was a dramatic shift in focus. “Cuccinelli Set to Discover Economic Policy Today,” read the headline on a news release issued shortly before his announcement.
“Ken Cuccinelli’s newfound interest in Virginia’s economy is too little too late for a politician who has spent years using his office to advance his own extreme pet causes instead of fighting for Virginia families,” Charniele Herring, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in the release.
But Cuccinelli said his motivation, whether battling “Obamacare” or the Environmental Protection Agency, has always been to get government out of the way of business.
“As governor, job creation will be my top priority,” he said.
Cuccinelli’s plan calls for cutting the corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 4 percent over four years and reducing the individual income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent over that period.
When fully implemented, the cuts would cost the state government about $1.4 billion a year, Cuccinelli said. He would seek to replace that money by eliminating tax exemptions and loopholes that “promote crony capitalism.”
Cuccinelli declined to identify the specific exemptions or loopholes he would target.
As a few details of Cuccinelli’s plan began to leak out last week, his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, released a proposal of his own. It calls for eliminating or reducing the business, professional and occupational license tax, the machinery and tool tax, and the merchants’ capital tax.
Cuccinelli’s plan also calls for cutting or scrapping those taxes. He said he would find a way to maintain revenue for local jurisdictions, some of which rely heavily on those taxes.
The attorney general said he would not allow state government to grow faster than the rate of inflation plus population growth. This year, the state budget grew by 5.8 percent, while population and inflation growth was a combined 3.3 percent. Had Cuccinelli’s plan been in effect and budget growth been limited to 3.3 percent, the budget would have been $530 million smaller, he said.
He unveiled his plan at SweetFrog, a frozen-yogurt chain that started in Richmond in 2009 and has grown to more than 250 locations in 18 states and several countries. He noted that the company has had tremendous success even under Virginia’s current tax structure but that his proposal could make it easier for companies to expand.
Cuccinelli also said his tax plan would make the state especially attractive to companies considering moving to Virginia. The changes could help the state capitalize on advantages that the Port of Virginia has as it seeks to attract huge shipping vessels that will soon pass through an expanded Panama Canal, he said.
His appearance drew a group of protesters to the sidewalk outside the yogurt shop, in the Carytown section of Richmond. They held signs critical of his initial decision to allow his office to handle a tax case and a criminal embezzlement case with ties to Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Cuccinelli initially failed to disclose substantial stock holdings in Star and about $5,000 in personal gifts from Williams. He attributed both lapses to oversights; he had disclosed about $13,000 in other gifts from Williams. Cuccinelli recently sought to have his office recused from the tax and embezzlement cases.