Gov. McDonnell seeks stimulus money, despite earlier criticism

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell speaks to the press during a ceremony last month.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell speaks to the press during a ceremony last month. (Steve Helber - AP)
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

RICHMOND -- For more than a year, Robert F. McDonnell has been critical of the federal stimulus package, arguing that it should have been more focused on creating jobs and spurring the economy.

But that hasn't stopped Virginia's new Republican governor from lobbying aggressively for a piece of President Obama's $4.35 billion Race to the Top education program, which is funded by the Recovery Act.

Some of the money could be spent on new jobs, but much of it would go to developing curriculum, expanding a database of student records and training existing employees. Virginia applied for $350 million and expects to learn this week whether it is a finalist for a grant.

McDonnell said during his campaign that he would accept federal stimulus money if elected, but Democrats have accused him of hypocrisy because he criticized the Recovery Act as a candidate.

"It's hypocrisy. There's nothing else to call it,'' said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who serves as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "Republicans like Bob McDonnell have been particularly critical of pieces [of the Recovery Act] that wouldn't create jobs, and now he's asking for that money anyway. You can't have it both ways. If you are against something, be against it."

McDonnell said in an interview last week that he has consistently backed Obama's education reform initiatives and insisted that Virginia receive a portion of the stimulus money.

"I thought the stimulus package ought to have been done differently but, as long as it was there, that Virginia ought to have its share," he said.

The stimulus creates a challenge for McDonnell, a fiscal conservative and one of the Republican Party's rising stars. He has chastised Democrats in Congress for their increased spending. But he is searching for money to help offset his state's $4 billion budget shortfall.

Charges of hypocrisy

In February, which marked the one-year anniversary of the Recovery Act, the DNC began targeting Republicans across the nation who opposed the stimulus legislation but then welcomed the money.

So far, 120 governors and members of Congress have made the Hypocrisy Hall of Fame, including McDonnell and some fellow Virginians, Reps. Eric Cantor, Frank R. Wolf and Robert W. Goodlatte. Many are lawmakers who voted against the Recovery Act; Democrats accuse them of later taking credit for stimulus-funded projects in their districts.

McDonnell has been consistent in his comments about the stimulus over the past year -- saying, whenever asked, that he would accept the federal money but that the state should not balance its budget using money from the Recovery Act.

"The money is coming from Virginia taxpayers. Frankly, it's coming from the children of Virginia taxpayers," McDonnell said in February 2009. "I think we ought to take it to the maximum degree as possible."

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