Which candidate will raise taxes in Virginia?
By Lee Hockstader
Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, is a smart guy -- smart enough to frame his positions with care. Which is why I wonder whether he has intentionally left himself some wiggle room in his ritualized insistence that he won't raise taxes “in this tough economic time.”
That’s how he usually puts it, and that’s how he put it tonight in his fourth and last debate against the Democrat running for governor, state Sen. Creigh Deeds. Sure enough, the gubernatorial campaign has taken place during a sharp recession. But it’s a good bet that the economists who decide these things will determine fairly soon that the recession is over -- or ended some months ago -- and that growth, jobless or not, has resumed. Could McDonnell then turn on a dime and declare that with “this tough economic time” over and done with, higher taxes were now unavoidable?
It may be difficult to imagine that a Republican of McDonnell’s ilk, who has opposed most major tax increases, will change stripes that drastically. But on the major challenge facing the state, transportation, he will face a stark choice if he is elected governor: Stick with his own, light-as-a-feather transportation plan (lots of ideas, none of them likely to produce much money) and see no significant road improvements for the next four years, or, well, make a few adjustments.
It wouldn’t be unheard of. Neither Gov. Gerald Baliles (1986-1990) nor Gov. Mark Warner (2002-2006) admitted to wanting to raise taxes as a candidate; both turned out to be famous tax-raisers, and both left office lionized by majorities of Virginians as great governors.
It wouldn’t even be completely unprecedented for McDonnell, who, after all, played a part in crafting a compromise a couple of years ago under which Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads would have had the option of increasing taxes on themselves. (The idea died in a court challenge, but it could be revived in some other form.)
McDonnell, who would still be a youngish 59 on leaving office in 2014 (Virginia governors get just one four-year term), would be looking for the next political opening, possibly for the presidency in 2016. Would he really want to run as the governor who did nothing significant to address his state’s most critical problem? Or, mindful that moderation is the key to success nationally, as in a purple state like Virginia, would he strike a deal with the Democrats who control the state Senate and become the first governor in a quarter century to raise new funds for transportation?
“I know it’s gonna take a bipartisan solution,” McDonnell said in the debate tonight, in which he also took pains to praise President Obama, President Kennedy and former Gov. Doug Wilder -- all Democrats.
A bipartisan solution? Sounds like new taxes to me.
| October 20, 2009; 9:35 PM ET
Categories: Hockstader | Tags: Lee Hockstader
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