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Deeds in a Bit of a Bind on Taxes, Transportation

Friday, September 18, 2009; A08

Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds declared pretty definitively to a full house at a debate in Tysons Corner on Thursday that as governor he would not support higher taxes.

"I'm not going to raise taxes," he said.

But gubernatorial candidate Deeds (Bath) also said that he would gladly sign a transportation plan that identifies new revenue to fix roads. A tax increase is one option on the table, he said.

When asked to explain the apparent contradiction, Deeds said he would not raise taxes for the general fund, the account that pays for such government functions as schools, prisons and social services. The gas tax goes to the transportation trust fund, and Deeds would look at that and other options for roads.

If Deeds looks as though he is dancing around the tax issue, it isn't the first time. It wasn't that long ago that he wasn't willing to say he would raise taxes for roads; his promise was to keep "all options" on the table and to bring lots of people together to forge a bipartisan solution to improve traffic across Virginia.

Deeds's Republican opponent, former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, repeated his pledge not to raise taxes for roads or anything else. McDonnell also stood by his opposition in 2004 to a tax increase promoted by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to bolster state spending on schools, public safety and other core services.

"That was the largest tax increase in Virginia history," McDonnell said. "The secret to Virginia's success has been keeping taxes, regulation and litigation low, strong right-to-work laws and great universities. That's the same thing that I'm going to bring to the office of governor. My opponent is going to continue to find new ways to tax the people of Virginia."

One point worth noting is that McDonnell is promising some of the same program improvements -- more capacity at state universities and higher teacher salaries -- that would have been funded by some of the tax increase proposals that he is criticizing Deeds for having supported in the past.

"The things I've worked on through the years are now his ideas," Deeds said. "It doesn't make sense to me."

What About Jobs?

In his closing statement during Thursday's debate, Deeds said McDonnell "has never introduced a bill to create a job, and he has never introduced a bill to expand an educational opportunity."

Deeds went on to list some of the bills McDonnell did sponsor as a member of the state House of Delegates, including 35 to restrict abortion and four to define a new class of marriage that would make it harder to obtain a divorce.

When asked to respond, McDonnell pointed to his sponsorship in 1995 of major legislation to reform the state's welfare system.

"Do you know what that bill did?" McDonnell asked reporters. "It put women to work. It created the transportation and health-care benefits and tax support so that women could go back to work."

McDonnell also mentioned a bill he sponsored a year later giving businesses tax credits for hiring people.

Did welfare reform create jobs? Not really, and some contend that it reduced the pool of available jobs by adding people to the workforce. It's reasonable, however, to argue that encouraging businesses to hire former welfare recipients by granting tax credits is a form of job creation.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said that when Democrats accuse the candidate of having emphasized social issues -- instead of jobs and schools -- they don't do justice to his support for public safety initiatives during a 14-year career as a lawmaker and his time as state attorney general.

-- Amy Gardner and Sandhya Somashekhar

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