This year’s much-discussed transportation package is now the law of the commonwealth. If I am fortunate enough to be elected governor of Virginia, I will not seek to change that.
I opposed the legislation because I believe the negative impact of its tax increases — coming at a time of continued uncertainty for Virginia’s job creators, families and workers — outweigh its benefits. My opposition to the Silver Line was rooted in a similar concern that the costs far outweigh the benefits — unless you happen to be a well-connected real estate developer who owns property near one of the new stations.
Fortunately, Virginia forced Phase 2 of the Silver Line to be rebid without the guaranteed union sweetheart deals called project labor agreements that my opponent, Terry McAuliffe, and his union pals like so much. As a result, the winning bid saved taxpayers $300 million. That’s what opening up bidding on big transportation projects achieves.
In the June 25 editorial “Mr. Cuccinelli vs. Virginia commuters,” The Post sought to use my issues with the Silver Line to suggest that I let “ideology trump practicality” with regard to transportation policy. It may surprise The Post editorial board to learn that my office is currently appealing a ruling by a Portsmouth circuit judge, which declared a common use of Virginia’s public-private partnership law unconstitutional. If our appeal proves unsuccessful, a number of major transportation projects could be indefinitely delayed or completely jeopardized. One of these projects is the Silver Line. My office is vigorously defending the commonwealth’s interests in this case because that is our legal obligation and our solemn responsibility to the people of Virginia. It doesn’t matter what package passed the General Assembly in February; I carried out my duty as attorney general, and provided the legal advice needed to ensure the legislation’s constitutionality. I might not have liked the bill, but the law and the will of the people are much more important than my view.
As governor, I’m going to make decisions based on the priorities of the people who elected me, not the desires of the special interests and well connected. Whether it’s transportation, education or economic policy, my core focus in this campaign and as governor will be securing Virginia’s future so that our children have the same job opportunities that my generation was privileged to enjoy.
When it comes to transportation reform generally, The Post and my opponent present a false choice. They suggest the transportation bill that ultimately passed was the only option facing legislators. More broadly, they imply that those who opposed the package were opposed to transportation reform generally. I have always believed that alleviating Virginia’s transportation problem in a responsible way will be critical to securing Virginia’s economic future. I grew up in Northern Virginia and I still live here. I’ve spent enough painful hours stuck in traffic to recognize the severity of the problem.
During the 2013 legislative session, I supported Sen. Steve Newman’s transportation alternative, which would have put more money in transportation. The proposal won 18 out of 40 votes in the state senate. Similarly, in 2007, I voted in favor of a bipartisan transportation package that allowed congestion-prone localities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to collect taxes — independently of Richmond — to fund congestion relief.
In the coming weeks, I will unveil a comprehensive transportation plan designed to alleviate traffic by fundamentally changing our approach to transportation funding. Instead of political reasoning, my administration would rely on a statewide traffic congestion index to determine how new construction is prioritized. Every locality in Virginia would have independent trigger mechanisms — based on quantifiable measures of traffic congestion and road capacity — that will determine funding and prioritization of projects. No matter how vigorously certain localities or special interests try to sway lawmakers in Richmond, every new project would be considered under the same guidelines. When it comes to transportation spending, this frugal and objective approach would relieve more congestion than McAuliffe’s attempts to use precious transportation dollars to reward his union supporters and fund projects for the well connected.
The numbers — not the lobbyists — will dictate Virginia’s transportation projects if I am elected governor. Our plan will allow for significantly more transparency and public input, which I believe will have a positive impact on the system.
There is no question that Virginia’s transportation problem continues to hold us back. Republicans and Democrats, including those who supported this year’s package, are in agreement that one law will not solve the issue. It will be imperative for Virginia’s next governor to work with leaders in both parties to come together around constructive solutions that will ease congestion and encourage businesses to expand, hire new workers and take responsible risks.
In the coming months, my opponent and his allies will do everything they can to change the subject from the economy to focus on issues that divide Virginians. At the end of the day, I am confident that Virginians will tune out the noise and false headlines and focus on what’s really at stake in this election: jobs and Virginia’s economic future.
The writer is attorney general of Virginia and the Republican nominee for governor.