Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) got his prize — a historic transportation bill. In a statement released after the House of Delegates and the state Senate passed a compromise measure, McDonnell crowed: “Most Virginians and Americans are tired of the politics of dysfunction and inaction that we see in Washington. They prefer cooperation and results. . . . We do that in Richmond. For several decades now transportation loomed as an issue that seemingly could not be solved.” He announced: “Today we have shown a path forward, a path past the old political arguments and endless posturing that threatens the economic prosperity and competitiveness of our state and nation.”
He wrung from Democrats the right to move $200 million of general fund money. Together with new taxing authority from the most congested parts of the state (Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia), plus federal online sales tax money and an extra 0.3 percent on sales tax McDonnell assures a funding mechanism substantial enough to meet the state’s increased transportation needs. The measure also eliminates the retail gas tax.
National conservatives got bent out of shape when they heard Democrats were insisting upon an expansion of Medicaid. A McDonnell adviser was blunt, “Virginia is not Ohio. Virginia is not Florida. Medicaid will not be expanded in Virginia.” Instead, McDonnell talked the Democrats into a bicameral commission that will set about trying to reform Medicaid (federal approval is needed) before it can be expanded. With the overwhelmingly Republican House of Delegates, the state can be assured Medicaid isn’t expanding anytime soon. Moreover, should Democrat Terry McAuliffe win the governorship this year, the commission becomes an impediment to expanding Medicaid.
In a press conference after the bill’s passage McDonnell was clear: “I strongly oppose the expansion of Medicaid and it cannot be done unless there is a major and total reform of the system.” He explained that the Republicans who control the House of Delegates had “set a clear firewall against expansion. They have said there will no expansion unless all the reforms outlined in the budget are implemented.”
McDonnell thus ends the last legislative session of his tenure. In his statement he recounted, “Over the past three years, we have cut spending, audited and reformed VDOT, authorized new bonds, used surpluses, issued new public-private partnerships for toll roads, created the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, and dedicated two-thirds of all undesignated surplus funds to transportation. We have used every tool provided by law to leverage scarce dollars. Yet those actions were not sufficient to meet the mobility, economic development, and quality of life needs of the people of Virginia. Today, we fixed the problem.” Purists won’t like any tax increase; McDonnell, however, is content in knowing his pragmatic conservatism produced one of the most successful legacies of any governor in recent memory. Together with his education reform bill he will end on a high note.
Now what? McDonnell will have to consider if there is a political office or platform that keeps him in the conservative limelight. If he does that, surely he’ll be on the short list for a spot on the 2016 presidential ticket.