It did not take Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli very long to show how different he is from Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who originally backed Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as his successor. And that is not a good thing.
McDonnell meticulously put together a coalition of support for a transportation plan that, for the first time in decades, makes a realistic stab at funding the commonwealth’s roads. Taking on the all-or-nothing crowd, McDonnell proposed elimination of the gas tax and a small hike in the sales tax (0.8 percentage points) to be dedicated to transportation. It would raise about $845 million, roughly a fourth of it coming from the federal government.
Cuccinelli initially praised the effort. But after hearing the hollering of the grass roots he quickly shifted position. Cuccinelli backed an alternative plan by state Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg). The Post explains:
The plan McDonnell (R) put forth would eliminate the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax, raise the sales tax from 5 to 5.8 percent and boost car registration fees by $15. By 2018, the governor’s plan would also take $283 million a year from the general fund, which funds services such as education and law enforcement. . . .Newman’s legislation would remove the 17.5-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel — McDonnell’s plan had kept the tax on diesel— and replace it with a new 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of fuel. The sales tax would remain at 5 percent for other items under Newman’s plan, which also does away with the fee increases called for under McDonnell’s proposal.
Newman’s plan would lose about $20 million in fiscal 2014, but he said with inflation and increases in the cost of gas, it would bring in $500 million to $650 million a year by 2018. Those figures also count on $200 million a year from federal legislation related to collecting online sales tax.
The Cuccinelli/Newman bill resides in the Senate, where it will be introduced as an amendment and passage is doubtful.
Aside from the political duplicity, Cuccinelli’s decision to back a bill that is insufficient to the commonwealth’s needs shows how impractical he can be. He is a dogged ideologue, which might be fine in a deep-red state or as a federal lawmaker when you are one of 365 or 100, but the governor of a purple state must be a practical problem solver. Cuccinelli suggests he will be anything but.
What happens next? The Senate may pass the McDonnell version or some other version. It is unlikely the Cuccinelli/Newman bill is going to fly in the closely divided Senate. Perhaps this will work out in the end with a compromise bill that meets the state’s needs. If not, McDonnell should amend the bill (as he is permitted to do under state law) to ensure Virginia’s needs are met.
As for Cuccinelli and the gubernatorial race, this episode highlights precisely why Bolling or some other center-right candidate is sorely needed in the race. Otherwise Virginians face a distasteful choice between a right-wing ideologue and a Democratic moneyman (Terry McAuliffe). It also raises the issue as to just how much energy McDonnell is going to put into supporting a successor who won’t back his signature achievement.