Gas Tax Demagoguery: Voters should not be swayed by misleading pitches in the Virginia primary.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

IT WOULD have been hard to imagine even a few weeks ago that former Alexandria delegate Brian J. Moran would feel the need to go negative against rural state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds. But with Tuesday's Democratic primary fast approaching, and with Mr. Deeds's popularity apparently surging, Mr. Moran has unveiled a dubious line of attack: He has taken to chiding Mr. Deeds for supporting a transportation plan that would have raised revenue to ease congestion on Northern Virginia roads. You would think a longtime Northern Virginia resident who has also voted to increase taxes for transportation would know better.

A recent TV ad from the Moran campaign declares, "Creigh Deeds means well, but raising the gas tax in the middle of a recession only hurts working people." Then, on WTOP's "The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin" yesterday, Mr. Moran contended that this page endorsed Mr. Deeds because he voted for an increase in the gasoline tax last year. That's not quite right, so let's set the record straight.

Yes, Mr. Deeds voted to increase the gas tax last year, even though he knew doing so might irk his rural constituents and provide fodder for Republican attacks if he won the gubernatorial nomination. And, yes, Mr. Moran helped kill the gas tax bill in committee because it was politically unpalatable. "Any effort to raise taxes has to be bipartisan," Moran said at the time. "This was an opportunity for rural legislators to take the lead, and they chose not to." Hardly a profile in political courage. (The third candidate, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry R. McAuliffe, says that he wants to have an honest conversation about raising revenue, but he has no record.)

What's confusing -- and seemingly hypocritical -- is that Mr. Moran has been generally supportive of raising revenue for transportation, voting to increase the sales tax. Is raising the gas tax a penny a year over five years, as was proposed, any more of a burden on "working people" than a sales tax hike? By demagoguing on the gas tax, Mr. Moran is irresponsibly hampering his ability to piece together a transportation package if he becomes governor.

Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran have cast tens of thousands of votes, and it's possible to reach any number of conclusions about their records. We believe that Mr. Deeds is the best choice among the Democratic candidates for governor not because he voted to increase the gas tax but because the vote is an example of his willingness to take a politically difficult stand.

Mr. Deeds is the only candidate to make clear that he would tackle transportation in his first year as governor. He has worked to reform Virginia's gerrymandered districts and to close the state's gun-show loophole. To paraphrase Mr. Moran, Mr. Deeds is that rare rural legislator to take the lead on issues that matter to Northern Virginians. Voters should focus on those qualities, instead of on the negative TV ads and fliers, when they head to the polls on Tuesday.

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