August 19, 2013

AS A CANDIDATE for governor of Virginia four years ago, Robert F. McDonnell (R) published a plan to replenish the state’s transportation funding system, which was on a headlong rush toward penury. The plan was impressively long, imposingly comprehensive and dauntingly detailed. It was also utter nonsense, as was obvious at the time and as recent history has shown.

This year’s version of Mr. McDonnell’s transportation plan is the economic plan advanced by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who is running to succeed Mr. McDonnell. Like the 2009 McDonnell transportation plan, the 2013 Cuccinelli economic plan relies on magical thinking.

The main difference between the two blueprints is the effort that went into drafting them. Mr. McDonnell’s plan was 19 single-spaced pages, resplendent with bullet points, subsections and wonderfully precise dollar totals. Mr. Cuccinelli’s plan consists of one sentence, plus four very brief bullet points. Grandly known as “The Cuccinelli Economic Growth & Virginia Jobs Plan,” it fits neatly onto about half a page.

The McDonnell transportation plan contained every revenue-conjuring idea under the sun, short of the one method that actually works to improve a crumbling road network: raising taxes. When Mr. McDonnell finally threw his weight behind major new taxes for transportation this year, it was an open acknowledgment that his 2009 blueprint was an illusion.

The Cuccinelli economic plan, for all its brevity, does contain one idea. By slicing business income taxes by a third and personal income taxes by 13 percent, Mr. Cuccinelli would slash $1.4 billion in revenueabout 8 percent of Virginia’s overall annual tax base.

Yet somehow — here’s where the magical part comes in — Mr. Cuccinelli insists that, under his plan, revenue would hold steady and the state’s already lean budget would be held harmless.

By Mr. Cuccinelli’s facile account, squaring this circle would simply require eliminating loopholes and deductions for those who are coddled by the state’s tax code. That sounds great in the abstract, but which loopholes and deductions does Mr. Cuccinelli have in mind? Naturally, he isn’t saying.

Just as Mr. McDonnell’s proposal, for all its detail, was gobbledygook, so too is Mr. Cuccinelli’s — unless what he is really planning is a frontal assault on state spending. That would mean eviscerating education, public safety, infrastructure and social services, which together account for a large majority of that spending.

Mr. Cuccinelli suggests that cutting corporate income taxes by a third would transform Virginia into an irresistible magnet for businesses, which would grow at lightning speed. But what businesses, and which employees, would be content to live in a state whose budget starves its schools, social services and public safety?

At the heart of the Cuccinelli vision is the same fantasy that animated the McDonnell plan four years ago — sacrifice is for suckers; popular and vital services can be had for free; and Virginia voters are saps. In fact, revenue cannot be summoned from thin air, either by Mr. McDonnell or by Mr. Cuccinelli.