Initially prodded by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), the General Assembly approved a complex package Saturday that restructures the commonwealth’s gas taxes while increasing sales taxes and other levies to boost a transportation fund that is running out of money in a state with areas that have some of the nation’s worst commuting times.
McDonnell, who is said to be mulling a White House run, commended the $880 million-a-year overhaul, which received support from half of the Republicans in the House of Delegates and eight of the 20 in the Senate.
“There’s not a single tax in the Virginia code that I have ever voted for,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). “To have somebody like me do this means it must be pretty bad. I looked at every single way to raise money for roads, and it is literally impossible to do without raising revenue.”
The circumstances in Washington two months ago were different from those in Richmond this weekend, but in both cases, Republicans were more willing to accept tax increases than they have been in recent years.
“It certainly did not hurt,” said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. “Seeing that the party leadership in Washington was willing to be more pragmatic and accept taxes . . . I think made it much easier for Republicans at the state level to act.”
Like their counterparts in Washington, Republican leaders in Richmond had to rely on Democrats to pass the tax increase, and many on the right were withering in their criticism of the deal. A coalition of conservative Virginia bloggers wrote that the transportation deal betrayed their principles.
“Every Republican statewide official (and most legislators) were elected on a promise not to raise taxes,” the blogger said in the open letter. “This bill erodes the credibility of all future candidates and the ability of voters to hold said candidates accountable.”
Marc Scribner, a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was especially harsh toward the governor.
“McDonnell is fast proving himself to be the Charlie Crist of the Mid-Atlantic — honoring no principles other than those he perceives will bring political gain,” Scribner said, referring to the former Florida governor who left the GOP and is considering a run for his old job as a Democrat.
Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist, a critic of the transportation plan, said that only a few Virginia Republicans who had signed his group’s anti-tax pledge had violated it. (McDonnell did not sign Norquist’s pledge during his 2009 campaign, although he did say he had “no plans to raise taxes.”)