Bob McDonnell was a WHAT?!?!

Reactions to the Bob McDonnell verdict our pouring in, and there’s one in particular (from many of his defenders) that I find completely flabbergasting.

The ex-Governor’s defenders are calling him a “man of integrity.” My jaw hits the table each time I see that.

Folks, Bob McDonnell spent all of 2009 insisting he would not raise taxes. He blasted his opponent (Creigh Deeds) for even considering it, and rode the issue to a landslide win in November of that year.

In the last year of his term (as it happens, last year) he broke that promise in spectacular fashion, ramming through the largest tax increase in at least 40 years.

Even then, he skirted the truth. He insisted the tax hike was for relieving commuter congestion, but in fact his top priority was actually a parallel road to US 460 that wasn’t needed for traffic relief – and which the Army Corps of Engineers said he couldn’t build anyway (Bacon’s Rebellion).

So please, spare me the “man of integrity” nonsense. If you want to complain about the federal decision to prosecute McDonnell (as opposed to other Virginians) or the bizarre nature of the “honest service fraud” statute, that’s one thing.

But Bob McDonnell was no angel.

Cross-posted from the right-wing liberal

State Senator Phil Puckett resigns; deck chairs on Titanic to be re-arranged

Richmond is all agog over the resignation of State Senate Phil Puckett (Richmond Times-Dispatch), which grants the Republicans a temporary majority in the State Senate, pending a special election which the Republicans are favored to win. According to the RTD, Puckett’s resignation paves the way for his daughter to be elected to a judgeship, while he himself could land on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

All eyes (in Richmond) went immediately to the budget, where according to the Constitution (emphasis added):

No bill which creates or establishes a new office, or which creates, continues, or revives a debt or charge, or which makes, continues, or revives any appropriation of public or trust money or property, or which releases, discharges, or commutes any claim or demand of the Commonwealth, or which imposes, continues, or revives a tax, shall be passed except by the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members elected to each house, the name of each member voting and how he voted to be recorded in the journal.

Normally, that means 21 out of 40. Given that we only have 39 at the moment, 20 should actually work…for the State Senate to pass the budget until the special election. In the grand scheme of things, though, there is a lot less than meets the eye. Here’s why.

First, not every Republican State Senator supported the Republican budget: Walter Stosch (Dave Brat’s patron), John Watkins, and Emmett Hanger all voted with the Democrats to add Medicaid expansion to the budget. In theory, party unity could convince them to change their minds, but there’s no guarantee of that.

Second, there is still the Governor: If one wanted to hand Terry McAuliffe the perfect excuse for a budget veto, coaxing a Senator’s resignation with the promise of appointments for himself and his daughter would be it. I’ll admit, a veto is unlikely, but this deal is excellent ammunition for Election Day 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Speaking of…

Third, even if the GOP wins the budget battle, the fight of Medicaid will go on, and this will make it harder to win: According to Christopher Newport University (poll), the Republicans were actually winning the debate on Medicaid expansion. That might, and probably will, change if T-Mac can now claim perfidy from the opposition. This allows Terry McAuliffe - Terry F–king McAuliffe - to run as Mr. Clean, and the Democrats to present themselves as the Clean Team in 2015 and 2017.

Odds are this will even damage our recent nominee for U.S. Senate – Ed Gillespie, the consummate Virginia Republican insider.

We may even see the Republicans cave on Medicaid expansion just to neutralize the issue in 2015.

Fourth, the State Senate is the poisoned chalice of recent times. Let’s say the GOP does win the special election and holds all 21 seats next year, which I’ll admit is still likely despite the above (or because of the previous sentence). Let’s take a look at the fate of the party controlling the state senate after the last six midterm elections (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011). In all six cases, the party lost the ensuing gubernatorial election. In five of them, they lost House seats and a majority of the statewide races. In three, they lost all statewide races, and in two they lost the senate itself.

Now, one could say even that might be worth it if a Republican Senate would mean greater momentum for limited government, but that just isn’t so…

Every Republican-controlled State Senate in the 21st Century has enacted a tax increase: That’s right; there was the referendum of 2002 (defeated by the voters), the Warner tax hike of 2004 (which, at $1.5 billion, was only half what the State Senate originally wanted), HB3202 (largely overturned by the courts), and Plan ’13 From Outer Space. If anything, it has been minority status that forces Republicans to behave.

Given all of the above, I can’t help thinking that this victory is meager, if not pyrrhic.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Rob Wittman for Re-election

Unlike the painful situation in the 7th District, Republican voters in the 1st (which included me until I moved into the 4th last year) are blessed with two superior choices: incumbent Rob Wittman and challenger Anthony Riedel. They are both near-perfect on the issues (the only major blemishes are Wittman’s farm policy votes and Riedel’s overly doctrinaire non-interventionism). Either would do their constituents proud.

However, I am endorsing Wittman, for one very simple reason: he opposed TARP, not once, but twice.

Readers of this blog know how much importance I give to the bank bailout. I have called TARP a policy mistake practically since its conception, and I am still convinced of that. I am also certain that support for TARP has been a serious problem for Republicans. Given this, when presented with Republican elected officials who were willing to defy their own president, their own candidate for president, and their own party leaders to do the right thing and vote No, I am compelled to stick by them.

Thus, I am sticking by Rob Wittman.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Does Don Beyer Practice What He Preaches?

We’ve already noted fmr. Lt. Gov. Don Beyer’s radio commercial where he stakes out some pretty extreme positions in his race for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s open 8th congressional district. There’s one thing that has jumped out at me during my repeated hearings of Beyer’s ad on WMAL. Beyer’s campaign says in the radio spot that he will fight in Congress for paid family leave and equal pay for women.

Now, Beyer owns one of the largest car dealership chains in Northern Virginia. My question (and one that his Democratic primary opponents should be asking) is whether Beyer offers his own employees paid family leave and pays women equally? Does Don Beyer practice what he preaches? The answer to that will say a lot about the man and what kind of congressman he would be.

Meanwhile, on Medicaid expansion in Virginia, the Republicans are actually winning

“First, you win the argument, then you win the vote” – Margaret Thatcher

On Medicaid expansion in Virginia, proponents have the newly-elected Governor, all of Virginia’s Democrats, a few dissenting Republicans,the State Senate and various well-heeled interests.

Opponents have the reality of Medicaid’s damage to poor people and (most of) the Republican Party of Virginia – a party that is badly, badly divided, controls only a majority in the House of Delegates, and was just handed it’s first goose-egg in Virginia offices in over twenty years.

Yet, according to Christopher Newport University, the RPV is actually winning the debate:

Virginians have been paying attention to the debate over Medicaid expansion taking place in Richmond, with 58% saying they have been following it either very closely or somewhat closely, and only 20% saying they have not followed it at all. Given the current contours of that debate, Virginians say 53% to 41% that they oppose Medicaid expansion. This is a reversal from the Wason Center survey released February 3 (see below), which showed general support for Medicaid expansion, 56% to 38%.

However, in that February survey, support for Medicaid expansion fell to 41% with 54% opposed, when respondents were asked if they would still support expansion if the federal government did not pay its share and Virginia had to cover the cost. That risk has been a key contention in the Republican argument against expansion. Those February numbers are very close to the 41% to 53% in the current poll, suggesting that Republican skepticism concerning expansion has gotten through to voters.

Simply put, this was hardly what was expected. In fact, I suspect most in the Virginia rightosphere still suspect that the Republicans in the House will cave on this issue…and perhaps they still will.

However, we should give credit where it’s due: not only has the Howell-led HoD held the line so far against Medicaid expansion, they also are winning the argument – the first critical step to winning votes, as Thatcher noted.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

On the Bank Bailout, the Buckley Rule, and Ed Gillespie

There has been increasing talk among Virginia Republicans about “the Buckley Rule,” and how it should impact decision on the nomination for U.S. Senate. There are, however, two problems with the application (usually from Ed Gillespie supporters): the rule isn’t quite what they think it is; and even if it did, Gillespie still wouldn’t qualify.

First of all, the rule itself is repeatedly “both misquoted and misapplied” as Neal Freeman noted in his account of when the rule was first promulgated (National Review). He should know; he was there. Buckley came up with the rule during the 1964 Goldwater-Rockefeller nomination battle. Despite what we may think, Rockefeller had his defenders on the right. He trailed LBJ by less than Goldwater, and his anti-Communism was rock-solid and unquestionable (Goldwater himself noted in his autobiography that before he decided to run himself, he was leaning to Rockefeller). It took months for NR itself to make a decision:

These intramural arguments, as I say, were protracted, begun in the winter and carrying on into the early spring. WFB sat at the head of the table, encouraging others to speak, keeping his own counsel. In early June, after Rockefeller had won the Oregon primary and Goldwater had won California, after all of us had had our say, after rumors had begun to creep out of 35th Street that NR might shift its support to Nelson Rockefeller — the equivalent, today, of word leaking out of 15th Street that the Washington Post might endorse Michele Bachmann — Bill, who rarely proposed, decided that it was time to dispose. With each of us in our assigned seat and with six pairs of eyeballs staring at him unblinkingly, Bill announced that “National Review will support the rightwardmost viable candidate.”

Victory for Team Goldwater! We all knew what “viable” meant in Bill’s lexicon. It meant somebody who saw the world as we did. Somebody who would bring credit to our cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican party and the country. It meant somebody like Barry Goldwater.

Indeed, NR did endorse Goldwater. More to the point, one year after this, Buckley himself chose to run for Mayor of New York – despite having no shot at winning – against the Republican establishment’s candidate, John Lindsay….

in the general election.

So clearly, those who use the Buckley rule as an electability argument have it wrong. However, even if they had it right, Ed Gillespie has a problem that sinks his electability: his support for TARP (a.k.a. the Bank Bailout).

Gillespie supporters will, of course, take issue with this. They will tell you (and me) that the key issue in 2014 isn’t the bank bailout, but the failures of the Obama Administration. As it happens, the critique against the Administration has three planks: government has grown massively large and costly; the economic “recovery” is so sluggish as to be hardly felt; and the president’s dangerous habit of assuming the Affordable Care Act is an American Enabling Act giving him legislative powers to change the law on the flyThe problem is that pro-TARP candidates are unable to use any of these arguments.

If Ed Gillespie tries to criticize the president and Mark Warner for reckless spending and government enlargement, Warner can throw the $700 billion bank bailout back in his face, but Mark Warner cannot accuse Shak Hill of supporting hundreds of billions in spending for America’s biggest banks.

Likewise, any attempt by Gillespie to discuss the economy will be trumped by Warner mentioning the 2008 financial crisis – and then remind everyone that Gillespie agreed the crisis was exceptional because of his support for the bank bailout. Only Shak Hill can remind voters that the bank bailout and hysteria ginned up by Washington to get it enacted made things worse, not better.

Finally, there is the fact that after TARP was enacted, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen rewrote the law at whim. That he had the authority to do so was bad enough, but Warner can play it simple and demand to know why Bush can change the law at whim but not Obama. Only Shak Hill can address this issue with the hypocrisy charge being thrown back in his face.

In short, Shak Hill can deliver the conservative message in 2014 far batter than Ed Gillespie can. As a result, he is a more “viable” candidate than Ed, and in my opinion, a more electable one, too.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

OPEN THREAD: Which NOVA Elected Officials Will Wind Up With Extended Stays With The McDonnells At Club Fed?

News that the FBI is zeroing in on political corruption in Northern Virginia and with lists of targets for them to investigate now starting to pop up, we thought now was a good time for an Open Thread to find out which elected officials you think may wind up with an extended stay with indicted former first couple of Virginia Bob and Maureen McDonnell at Club Fed. Bloviate below…

Club-Fed-Poster-225x300[1]White Collar Crime…Doing Time Has Never Been So Good!

Barbara Comstock for Congress

Some time ago, this blog endorsed Barbara Comstock for the Republican nomination for the 10th Congressional District. Since then, a new entrant, Bob Marshall, has garnered a lot of attention – and deservedly so. That does not change our position, however. Delegate Comstock is still our preferred choice for the seat.

To be fair, Bob Marshall has done yeoman’s work for all Virginia taxpayers in his 20-plus years as a Delegate. In fact, that’s the problem: the House of Representatives is a far different body, one in which individual members have far less power than legislators do in Richmond. If Bob were running for the Senate, we might react differently, but he’s not.

Moreover, Barbara Comstock is not your typical “Establishment” Republican in Virginia. Last year – as a Fairfax County Delegate with nearly every interest group screaming, begging, and cajoling her to support Plan ’13 From Outer Space – she said No. If she is the now the model for the Republican Establishment in the Commonwealth, than perhaps said establishment really has learned a thing or two after all.

In other words, assuming this comes down to Comstock and Marshall (and given the rest of the field, it almost certainly will), it is in fact a battle between two genuine supporters of limited government. The question is this: would Virginia be better served by Comstock in Washington and Marshall in Richmond? Or the other way around?

The answer is obvious. Virginia would lose far more than it could possibly gain if Marshall is sent to Congress. Better for him to stay where he is most valuable (Richmond), while Comstock can continue standing up for taxpayers in her own, quiet way in Washington.

Impeaching Mark Herring is a terrible idea

“I’ve never seen anything as brutally clear as this…an odd, set, stony quality to it, as if tomorrow’s already happening and there’s nothing you can do about it. The way you feel before an ill-considered attack - knowing it’ll fail. But you cannot stop it.”

- General John Buford (acted by Sam Elliot), Gettysburg (1993)

Of course, Buford did manage to “stop” his nightmare scenario (the Union Army charging up a hill that could not be taken) by his own actions. I doubt I will be as successful, but I feel I have to try to stop what will be a catastrophic error by the Richmond Republicans: the impeachment of Mark Herring.

Plans to impeach Herring are already afoot. My friend Shaun Kenney has the details. The crime: Herring agreed with plaintiffs suing the state over the 2006 Marriage Amendment. The plaintiffs said it violates the federal constitution, and Herring essentially said the plaintiffs were right. This is apparently a “constitutional crisis.”

I beg to differ. The “crisis” will be within the Republican Party if they actually try to impeach and remove Herring. This is a mistake on multiple levels.

First, there is the matter of constitutions: In case anyone forgot, Herring’s oath is to uphold both the Federal and state constitutions, and the Federal one comes first. You can argue with Herring’s reasoning on whether or not the 2006 amendment violates the Federal Constitution, but he has the power to express his opinion and act on it. To attempt to remove him from office for upholding the Federal constitution (as he sees it) is a much greater danger than anything Herring has done. I would also note that this great concern for the state constitution was appallingly missing back in 2007 when “transportation solutions” were a priority, the result being a dog’s breakfast of legislation that nearly every Republican not named Bob Marshall swore was a great achievement, yet was laughed out of town by a unanimous state Supreme Court. Voters might find the idea that the Constitution is paramount when it can stop same-sex-marriage but irrelevant when it protects their money from the taxman to be…a bit strange (more on that later).

Second, there is the question of Herring’s action: I’m reading some bizarre hair-splitting from some who say that Herring didn’t have to defend the 2006 amendment, but he shouldn’t have opposed it publicly. Why? Based on the rulings from the federal Supreme Court on this matter last year, refusing to defend and openly advocating for the plaintiffs is a distinction without a difference. Does it really matter that Herring is simply open about his agreement with the plaintiffs?

Next up, we have the political implications, which are vast and multi-dimensional. For starters, as I noted above, the RPV’s respect for the state constitution is hardly consistent, and Democrats will gleefully remind voters of that for months and years. Again, voters saw the Richmond Republican crew pass and celebrate a blatantly unconstitutional tax scheme less than a decade ago. They will wonder why the constitution is so important now, and they will conclude that the Republicans care more about stopping gay marriages than keeping taxes low and government limited. That’s the political equivalent of drowning the Commonwealth in blue paint.

Yet there are also ramifications for just this year. Political capital that would otherwise be saved up for stopping Medicaid expansion (Brian Schoeneman explains the financial implications here; he didn’t mention that Medicaid does – at best – nothing to improve the health of the poor, but that would just reinforce the point) or Governor McAuliffe’s budget spending spree will be wasted on an effort doomed to fail (seven Senate Democrats would have to vote to remove Herring from office, and that’s not happening).

Finally, there is the one thing we are all forgetting - the flip side of what Herring has done: I may be the only person to notice this, but there are serious problems with the 1971 Virginia Constitution. Article 10 (on education) specifically discriminates against schools of faith, and could be read to make vouchers illegal in the Commonwealth (a potential violation of freedom of religion). Article 11 (on environmental protection) could be used to ride roughshod over property rights (and the Fifth and Fourteenth federal amendments). Do we really want future Attorneys General to arbitrarily defend an overreaching state government? Or muzzle itself in the face of such overreach? I feel the question answers itself.

For these reasons, impeaching Mark Herring is a terrible idea – one that will damage Virginia, the cause of limited government within Virginia, and the Republican Party of Virginia for years – if not decades.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

The Republican Party, TARP, and Ed Gillespie (plus some personal news)

For those wondering where I’ve been for the past three weeks, I was recently married (Sunday, the 12th, to be exact). For those interested, meet the new Mrs. Liberal.

Anyhow, while I’ve been on my honeymoon, Ed Gillespie made it official – he is running for the U.S. Senate. Whether he wins the nomination or not is an open question (I’ll admit it may not be wide open at this point); for what it’s worth, I do think he would be a better Senator than Mark Warner. However, as I have discussed before wedding planning dominated my time, Ed has one fatal flaw to the party: his support for TARP (a.k.a., the Bank Bailout).

I should note that I have considered TARP a policy mistake practically since its conception, and I have maintained that view over the years. I have also explained why Republican nominees who support TARP are badly handicapped against their opponents: because they essentially agree with the Democrats’ excuse for the poor economic performance of the Obama Administration (i.e., the “2008 crisis” did it).

There are, however, even greater problems for TARP-backing Republicans when they get into office. Whatever arguments may roil the GOP, there is near universal recognition that spending needs to be reduced in general, and entitlement spending in particular. However, any pro-TARP Republican who talks about entitlement reductions and/or reductions in anti-poverty programs (no matter how inefficient or counter-productive said programs might be), will get slammed as a friend of the rich and a hypocrite for supporting the $700 billion bailout. While many, many Democrats also supported the bailout, they aren’t talking about these cuts. We Republicans are, and thus we suffer the consequences of cynical voters and lack of trust when we say America can’t afford spending X on entitlements or Y on discretionary spending when our spokesmen voted for $700 billion for the nation’s biggest banks.

I will admit that TARP, as a stand-alone issue, doesn’t resonate with voters as it did in 2008. However, its effects still scar the political landscape. Its damage still affects Republican politicians who supported it (such as Romney and Ryan in 2012)…

…which brings us to Gillespie. Whatever else one may say of him, as White House Counsel during 2008, he was at the forefront of defending TARP (see here). He is the epitome of the TARP-stained Republican pol. He will find his ability to maneuver on political issues far more restrained than he or his supporters believe.

In short, I do not think he will defeat Warner. More to the point, whether he does or not, his nomination and (if it happens) election will keep the party stuck in its TARP-supporting past, when it must instead highlight the TARP opponents in the party in order to re-establish trust on spending with the voters.

I have many friends who are fond of Gillespie (and some who aren’t); I don’t know the man personally. I do, however, know his stance on TARP, and that is enough for me to say that if he were nominated, the party – and the country – will lose more than it gains.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Ed Gillespie – would-be Senate candidate – backed TARP (meaning I can’t support him)

This has been cross-posted from my personal blog, the right-wing liberal. I speak only for myself.

There have been whispers (and much louder) about Ed Gillespie running for United States Senate next year. Given his national connections and the potential vulnerability of Senator Mark Warner, one can understand why there is excitement around Gillespie’s potential candidacy.

That said, Gillespie has one very critical flaw: as White House Counsel in 2008, he was a loud defender of TARP (CNN):

(CNN’s John) KING: You mentioned the economy. One of the last acts was this bailout. And $350 billion of it has been spent on George W. Bush’s watch. The second installment will come on Barack Obama’s. But many Americans, when you travel, they think, where did this money go? Did big banks get it on Wall Street? It is being flushed literally down the toilet? They don’t see the impact on Main Street.

But can you cite specific evidence that the first $350 billion has done anything to begin the turnaround?

GILLESPIE: You can, John. And in fact, if you look at the rates that have narrowed in terms of credit markets, the TED spreads and LIBOR, things, frankly, I didn’t know that much about until about six months ago, they were very — the spreads were high. And that’s not good for the credit markets.

The injection that the Treasury has put into the capital markets has helped ease those. Again, this is a difficult time. But the president said the other night, I believe rightly, that had we not acted boldly and had we not put this money into the financial markets, we would have seen a lot worse of a financial strain on the American people today than what we’re already witnessing.

Now, readers of my blog will know that I’ve been critical of TARP practically since its conception, and I have maintained that it was a terrible mistake. However, there is more to it than that. When Republicans nominate TARP supporters, they are essentially agreeing with the Democrats’ claim that the situation in 2008 was so terrible that President Obama should essentially be given a pass for any economic problems under his watch. It was one of the reasons Mitt Romney’s criticism of the president on the economy was so ineffective. It also damaged his efforts to criticize enlarging government in general.

As for Gillespie’s specific comments, we now know LIBOR was a badly corrupted indicator, one that even at the time should have been eclipsed by SONIA and EONIA (which were based on actual transactions, had already discounted the pre-September concerns about the economy, and thus did not jump in panic when Lehman Brothers sank beneath the waves).

Thus, for policy and political reasons, I cannot support Gillespie for the nomination. Support for TARP is a stain that cannot be removed.

Ken Cuccinelli was a squish, which brought his ticket-mates down with him. Period. (UPDATED)

We are now over a week past Election Day 2013, and a dangerous revisionism is sweeping across the right in Virginia. I have watched in amazement as Ken Cuccinelli has practically escaped all blame for what is arguably the worst performance by a Republican nominee for Governor since 1985 (using percentage of the total vote as the standard). I’ve seen blame thrown at his ticket-mates (well, one of them anyway), the Republican National Committee, the “establishment”, “RINOs”, Bill Bolling, etc.

However, take a broader view of the election and it becomes clear that Cuccinelli did this to himself and his ticket-mates, with a horrific slew of mistakes on the tax issue. Ken Cuccinelli lost because he was a squish.

I know I am just about the only blogger in the Virginia rightosphere to say that, but let’s be honest. Would any other Republican who spoke with pride about his role in raising taxes – not once, mind you, but twice – get the accolades and pats on the back that Ken is receiving now? To ask the question is to answer it.

Outside of Virginia, most of the high- and medium-profile races were in the northeast. In New Jersey – a state that gave Obama 58% in 2012 – a pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage Republican Governor ran for re-election, but with a record of lowering taxes. Chris Christie did two points better than Obama. Meanwhile, in Westchester County – a suburb so full of limousine liberals that Obama did better there than he did in Fairfax – Republican County Executive Rob Astorino faced a barrage of negative ads about his social conservative view. However, he also had a record of low taxes, and won re-election easily.

If that’s not enough, consider this. Ken Cuccinelli actually did come closer to victory (2.5%) than Mitt Romney did (3.9%), but in the areas most affected by the tax increases Cuccinelli defended and praised, he lost by a larger margin than Romney’s.

I have seen Republicans in Virginia fall for the same, failed model for a dozen years: social conservatives hoping to win over the center by supporting, defending, or refusing to oppose tax increases. It has been an unfettered disaster, and Ken Cuccinelli was just the latest to make that mistake…bringing down his fellow statewide candidates in the process.

The message from 2013 is crystal clear: Republicans who take pride in raising taxes will lose, period. Folks, Ken Cuccinelli did this to himself.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

UPDATE: I would also note that in Prince William County, long considered the swing county in the state, only one Republican Delegate voted for Plan ’13 From Outer Space; he went on to become the only incumbent GOP delegate in the county to be defeated at the polls.

Election Take-aways

Number of tax increases enacted by Governor Chris Christie during his term: zero

Number of tax increase endorsed by Ken Cuccinelli during his campaign: two

Advantage of Democrats over Republicans in Virginia yesterday: five

Advantage of Democrats over Republicans in New Jersey yesterday: twelve

Cuccinelli’s support for election: 45%

Christie’s support for re-election: 60%

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Ken Cuccinelli goes squishy again

As Election 2013 comes careening towards November, Ken Cuccinelli continues to transform himself into the biggest Republican disappointment of the campaigns.

In an appalling Loudoun Times-Mirror interview, Cuccinelli tries to take credit for the $1.2-billion-plus tax hike that I have called Plan ’13 From Outer Space:

Attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli last week reiterated his belief that there wouldn’t be the current transportation funding reform law if it weren’t for him.

“There wouldn’t be a transportation bill right now if I didn’t save it as attorney general,” Cuccinelli said during an Oct. 7 interview with the Times-Mirror.

Unreal. Ken Cuccinelli is now boasting about saving a massive tax hike…

…and he wonders why he’s losing.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Why I support Susan Stimpson for Lieutenant Governor

Much like Riley in his post endorsing Scott Lingamfelter, I do not claim to speak for Virginia Virtucon as a whole. I only speak for myself.

As the race for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia careens toward the finish line, convention delegates are faced with a smorgasboard of candidates: some with experience, others with outsider credibility; some touting their records, others running away from them; some looking to lift the campaign up, others tearing it down (and themselves in the process). It can all be a bit confusing.

That said, this could be the most important nomination contest the party has faced in a long time. I say that not due to the importance of the office, but rather the nature of the candidates, the campaign, and the political environment swirling around them. This decision will be made as the party reels from internal arguments, the self-inflicted wound known as Plan ’13 From Outer Space, and as always, the growing shadow of Washington, DC. In times like these, while outsiders can be useful and appealing, what is really needed is someone who has both political experience in office and the willingness to take on entrenched interests on behalf of the taxpayer.

Five candidates have experience in elected office. Four of them have buckled under and chosen to raise taxes on Virginians. Only Susan Stimpson has refused to stain her tenure of office with a tax increase.

This is not to say that the other four have bad records, but their records do have bad votes – votes which have cost you more money. Steve Martin, Scott Lingamfelter, and JMDD all voted for the Rube Goldberg scheme known as HB3202. Martin and Lingamfelter also voted for the sales tax “acceleration” in 2009 (as part of that years budget amendements; Martin opposed it as a stand-alone bill) and the manufacturers’ tax increase of 2010 (as part of that year’s budget). Mrs. Devolites-Davis voted for the Warner tax hike of 2004.

By contrast, Stimpson has ensured taxes have gone down, not up, in Stafford County (in contrast to Prince William, where Corey Stewart has indeed raised property taxes during his time there). I know from personal experience how difficult it is to tell local elites “no” on spending and tax matters. Susan has done that, every time.

Additionally, she has stood up for her constituents at the state level, where she can, by calling for more thrift, openness, and accountability at the Virginia Railway Express (funded by taxes paid on gas by residents from Great Falls to Glenora), and publicly opposing Plan ’13 From Outer Space – crossing her former patron (Speaker Bill Howell) in the process.

The Republican Party of Virginia will have a difficult 2013. If they wish to show voters that Plan ’13 will not be repeated, and that taxpayers will be respected from here on out, they need a nominee for Lieutenant Governor who can do more than say he will stand with them. They need a candidate who has stood with them.

Susan Stimpson is that candidate.

How is your local government doing?

While counties to the north are raising taxes, Stafford County, yet again, eliminated taxes.

Fairfax County is doing it (Supervisor Pat Herrity’s email newsletter)

Yesterday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to increase the property tax rate by one cent to $1.085. With the increase in assessments that translates to a 4.5 % or $216 increase in taxes on the average homeowner. This increase is on top of a 1.9% increase last fiscal year (FY2013) and another 4.5% increase in next year’s tax bill (FY2015) if cuts are not made for a total of 11% over three years. I voted against this budget.

Prince William County is doing it (Virginia Virtucon post, April 23, 2013)

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will vote tomorrow, April 23, on the FY 2014 tax rate. A resolution has already been drafted setting the rate at $1.181 per $100, which amounts to an average tax hike of 2.3 percent. There is much flowery language included in an attempt to provide a fig leaf here (“lowest tax bill”, “lowest tax burden”, “efficient and effective governance”, etc.), but the bottom line is people’s taxes are going up.

Stafford County is NOT doing it (Chairman Susan Stimpson’s email April 24, 2013)

Want proof that conservative governing and ideas work? Look no further than what we did in Stafford County last night. The Stafford County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a budget that:

  • Returns approximately $3.4 million to the taxpayers
  • Zeroed out the machinery and tools tax
  • Zeroed out the motor vehicle carrier tax
  • Zeroed out the boat tax
  • Focused dollars into the classroom and cut approximately 10% of the school administration costs by targeting categorical funding to instruction and technology
  • Put a mechanism in place that will address surplus funds, returning $2.4 million back to the taxpayer.


Conservative governing works and Susan Stimpson, Bob Thomas, Paul Milde, Cord Sterling, Gary Snellings, Jack Cavelier and Ty Schieber, all members of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors are proving it.

House passes amended Plan ’13 From Outer Space (UPDATE: Senate does too)

The House of Delegates approved McDonnell’s changes to HB 2313 (a.k.a. Plan ’13 From Outer Space), by a 64-35 vote. The roll is not up yet, but taxes will go up, including automatically for regions in the future that hit certain population and traffic levels.

I am deeply disappointed. This bill (and I assume the State Senate will grease the skids for this debacle UPDATE: which the State Senate has also passed with the Governor’s changes) will damage the state’s economy, political transparency, and accountability…while doing nothing about its over-centralized and dysfunctional transportation system.

It’s a sad day for Virginia.

Cross-posted to RWL

McDonnell’s amendments to transportation tax: a few rate tweaks, and a mechanism for AUTOMATIC future tax increases

Most of Governor McDonnell’s changes to HB2313 were minor – small reductions in the tax and fee rates – except for one big change that made this fiasco of a bill even worse: a mechanism to impose automatic future tax increases on Virginians.

One of the controversies surrounding what I call Plan ’13 From Outer Space was the state-imposed taxes on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads (regional taxes being unconstitutional and all). So, in reaction to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s reminder of that fact (VV), the Governor came up with this (also VV):

Addressing potential legal questions regarding regional taxation authority for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Amendments are made to the sections imposing the regional taxes for transportation by the state to improve the legal posture of the law by changing the applicability of the taxes to any Planning District Commission meeting certain empirical thresholds including population, registered vehicles and transit ridership.  Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia are the only jurisdictions currently meeting these criteria, but in the future other parts of the Commonwealth could utilize these tools if their transportation challenges continue to grow.

Now, it sounds like the affected future regions could choose to impose new taxes, doesn’t it? There’s only one problem: there is no choice involved at all. From the verbiage of the amendment itself (LIS VAunderline added):

In addition to the sales tax imposed pursuant to § 58.1-603, there is hereby levied and imposed in each county and city located in a Planning District established pursuant to Chapter 42 (§ 15.2-4200 et seq.) of Title 15.2 that (i) as of January 1, 2013, has a population of 1.5 million or more as shown by the most recent United States Census, has not less than 1.2 million motor vehicles registered therein, and has a total transit ridership of not less than 15 million riders per year across all transit systems within the Planning District or (ii) as shown by the most recent United States Census meets the population criteria set forth in clause (i) and also meets the vehicle registration and ridership criteria set forth in clause (i), a retail sales tax at the rate of 0.70 percent. In any case in which the tax is imposed pursuant to clause (ii) such tax shall be effective beginning on the July 1 immediately following the calendar year in which all of the criteria have been met.

No “could utilize” about it. The tax increase is automatic. The determination is made not by local or state elected officials, but by the U.S. Census. Thus, future taxes can be imposed on an entire region without anyone taking responsibility.

By the way, here are the list of Planning Districts in Virginia. Please note that, in effect, a subdivision built multiple counties away from you can trigger a tax increase that no one can stop under the Governor’s amendments.

If anything, this just makes Plan ’13 From Outer Space worse. It certainly is no way to govern…

…and it leaves Virginia’s transportation system just as overcentralized, disconnected from land use, and held hostage to upstream unfunded mandates as it was before this entire sorry episode began.

With any luck, the legislature will reject this; the entire, listing enterprise will sink beneath the waves; and Virginia can try again with a fresh perspective in 2014.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

Virginia, education spending, and budgets

During the great transportation-tax-love-in last month, a slew of Republican delegates and senators lamented that there was “nowhere to cut” in the Virginia budget. I can still hear Dave Albo running through the list of uncuttables.

One item he simply glossed over was “education” – as if it were impossible to find any efficiencies there. Now, I understand that education is the holiest of holies when it comes to state funding (and local funding, too; even I avoided it when I was proposing alternatives to property tax increases in Spotsylvania), but a new dataset compiled by AEI’s Mark Perry inspired a rethink.

Perry was comparing teachers to non-teacher-staff numbers for the fifty states, and what he found for Virginia was astonishing:

Virginia public schools led the nation in “educrat bloat,” with 130,100 non-teaching staff compared to only 70,947 teachers. That means that there were 183.4 public school administrators and non-teaching staff for every 100 teachers, or a ratio of almost two administrators and non-teaching personnel for every one teacher!

Yowza!

Of course, Virginia (like most states) reroutes quite a bit of taxpayer money to localities for education: over $6.6 billion a year (VA Department of Planning and Budget). Had the Commonwealth followed the national ratio on staffer-to-teacher (roughly 1:1), it could have saved quite a bit of money.

How much? Well, in order to figure that out, first you need to know how much Richmond spends per staffer. Since the data Perry compiled was from 2010, I went with the 2010 General Fund – Direct Aid to Localities for Education figure ($4.77B)…

Funding  $        4,769,832,540
Teachers                           70,947
Non-Teachers                         130,100
Total Staffers                         201,047
“Wrap Rate”  $                 23,724.96

For the uninitiated, “wrap rate” refers to all of the expenses tied to a person (wages, benefits, desk space, equipment, etc.). I mention this in order to explain why I didn’t decide to attempt to tease out capital costs spent by the recipients of the aid; for the most part, buildings and offices needed are driven by the number people on staff. Of course, the rate clearly shows that the state is not the only level of government paying for these people, which becomes important later.

So, what would the state have spent in 2010 if the ratio were 1:1, rather than 1.83:1? Something like this…

Total Staff 1:1                         141,894
Cost, 1:1  $        3,366,429,832
Savings  $        1,403,402,708
Savings % 29%

So the Commonwealth would have spent over $1.4B less on local school budgets had the non-teacher overage been addressed.

Assuming the ratios still hold today, that would translate to $1.569B in annual savings – over 20% more than the annual tax increase that was supposedly needed for roads.

Now, one could argue (and even if one didn’t, I already assumed one did) that simply cutting the state aid to local schools by $1.569B and asking the localities to cut back on non-teachers would go over like a lead balloon in courthouses and city council buildings. However, this is where the low “wrap rate” becomes relevant. Clearly, the state isn’t covering all of these staffers’ expenses; localities are partially on the hook, too. So local taxpayers would still save money if their school system pared down its non-teacher staffers.

Still, I figured I should at least bend the ear of my friend Shaun Kenney (currently in his fourth year on the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors). This is what he had to say…

Solution: whack the mandates that force localities to hire these bureaucrats.

The vast majority of this is coming down from Richmond.  Many localities would LOVE to do away with state mandated positions and the like… we just can’t.  The state comes in, forces us to hire, then retracts the state contribution because they are of the strong opinion that localities are awash in cash.
Almost half of the state mandates in Virginia directly impact education, and in many instances we have no idea what the cost or actual benefit (or negative impact) really is.
It’s ridiculous.  And no one has the guts to kill the mandates and treat localities as adults.
If that’s the opinion most localities share, this could be much easier than I thought.
More to the point, when it comes to finding alternatives to the Rube Goldberg tax-hike scheme now on the Governor’s desk (or, as I like to call it, Plan ’13 From Outer Space), please note what I have found (or projected to find) just after looking at one item – and one of the most politically sacrosanct items at that. Imagine what could be found if anyone went through the other $70-odd billion that is in the Commonwealth’s annual budget!
Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal
UPDATE: To be fair to Virginia, they’re hardly alone in this problem
bloat4

Your Virginia Governor, the Virginia House of Delegates, and 8 Virginia Senators think you’re an Idiot!

An excellent article appeared to today in Redstate.com explaining what happened in Virginia over the weekend.   Read the whole article, it’s well worth it.

Redstate noted all the praise that our Governor is receiving, from democrats.

“Bob McDonnell was getting all kinds of praise on the Sunday shows for his big transportation tax hike, which passed the Virginia legislature this week. He was getting praise from big government liberals like Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe and Martin O’Malley for his evenhandedness, his leadership, not like those troublesome conservatives in Washington who refuse to wheel and deal.

That should tell you all you need to know about the transportation tax hike McDonnell pushed through. But it’s a whole lot worse than that when you look at what really went down……

“he’s entering the final year of his governorship looking for something for his “legacy”, and he decided to make it all about transportation funding. The big McDonnell backers – corporations and developers – want more funding for road building and infrastructure, and since Virginia has been insulated from the economic downturn thanks largely to spending by the federal government (hence his outrage over the sequestration and what it might do to Virginia — he has no interest in cutting the size of government dollars which go to his state), they saw an opportunity to get funding from a big tax increase. (See this Wall Street Journal editorial for more.

The initial McDonnell package amounted to a $2.4 billion tax increase over five years. By the time the Virginia legislature was done with it, it had exploded into a $6.1 billion increase. These tax hikes include:

  • Sales tax hike from 5 to 5.3 percent
  • Additional sales tax hike of .7 percent in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia
  • Personal property tax hike from 3.5 percent to 4.3 percent
  • Tangible personal property tax hike to 5 percent
  • 3 percent Northern Virginia hotel tax
  • Diesel tax hike from 17.5 cents per gallon to 6 percent tax on wholesale diesel, roughly a 5 cent per gallon increase
  • Car tax hike from 3 percent to 4 percent in 2013, 4.1 percent in 2014, 4.2 percent in 2015, and 4.3 percent in 2016 (Remember when Republicans got elected in Virginia by saying we should get rid of the car tax? Good times.)”

No wonder the Governor was ecstatic after the vote, he got three times what he had asked for!  Our House of Delegates and those 8 Senators think we’re just that stupid, we’ll never notice these               $6 BILLION in tax increases.  Nor will we notice the BILLIONS more that we will have to pay for the expansion of medicaid.

More from RedState,

“But it gets worse. Because McDonnell was so desperate for this gigantic tax hike, he was willing to wheel and deal on Obamacare, too.

Senate Democrats in Virginia sensed that McDonnell was desperate. He needed their votes to pass his proposal since enough Republicans refused to go along with him. So they demanded more from McDonnell. They insisted they’d only vote for the tax hike if they got to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, something McDonnell had just days earlier swore he would not do.”

“In other words, Bob McDonnell was so desperate to raise taxes, he was willing to sell out on Obamacare, too. He was willing to sell out his party, his base, and his principles. And he did it with a smile.

The plan all along was to tax people more. The Medicaid expansion will do that too, adding in huge tax increases in future years when federal funding drops. And McDonnell got what he want. He passed his tax hike with a higher percentage of Democrats in the General Assembly voted for it than Republicans. He passed it despite the opposition of every Republican running statewide this year, including Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.”

So much for McDonnell’s word.  So much for him claiming to be a conservative.  Does he even realize that he has just driven a stake through the heart of his political future?  Or is he so out of touch with the voters that he thinks he might still run for Senate, or worse, President?  Does he not realize how furious republicans are across the state?  Or is he foolish enough to think that democrats will vote for him and he can afford to throw away the republican vote?  Whatever his thought process, it’s delusional if he think that he can ever run again as a republican.

This whole package of tax increases wasn’t even posted online for voters to read before the vote.  Gee, I wonder why not?  Why bother “the little people, the stupid little people” with such details.  Right?  We’re just too stupid to get it.  That’s what they think of us.  We know better, and soon they will too.

A draft transportation alternative to Plan ’13 From Outer Space

So Virginia’s tax-hike cheerleaders want those of us who opposed this fiasco to present a transportation alternative. Ok. Here goes…

1) Privatize all subdivision roads with existing HOAs. Inform subdivision without existing HOAs that their roads will be privatized in one year and they have that long to create an HOA or maintenance covenant among the homeowners.

2) All secondary roads are downloaded to local governments, along with the requisite percentage of as tax revenue needed to maintain them.

3) Repeal the sales tax increases (including the internet tax) and local tax increases

4) With localities in control if their own roads, the Commonwealth Transportation Board can be abolished

5) If 1-4 results in a revenue shortfall, raise the gas tax as needed, matched with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the state income tax

6) Localities may create regional compacts for transportation maintenance or construction, but not have the state impose them from above. Members of the NVTA and HRTF have two years to affirm their willingness to remain members or they will be removed (re-opt in, rather than opt-out).

7) The Medicaid expansion used to win the Dems over on the tax hike is repealed.

The result? A transportation network that is more flexible, more accountable and closer to the people, with a pro-growth economic policy to boot.

Is this perfect? Probably not, as I just came up with it while picking up breakfast. Can it be improved? Probably.

Is it better than Plan ’13 From Outer Space? Absolutely.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

About the “local” tax increases…

The tax increase fiasco continues to get worse with exposure….

Readers may recall Ken Cuccinelli’s somewhat confused statement on the bill. While he opposed the “massive tax hike,” he did add this: “If localities are given more authority to address their most urgent transportation needs, that would be an element that I strongly support…” (Lovettsville Lady).

Well, it turns out that element is non-existent. Here’s the bill’s new language on the hotel occupancy tax (emphasis added).

ARTICLE 10
Transient Occupancy Tax in Northern Virginia

Section 58.1-1742. Northern Virginia transient occupancy tax.

In addition [to] all other fees and taxes imposed under law, there is hereby imposed an additional transient occupancy tax at the rate of three percent of the amount of the charge for the occupancy of any room or space occupied that is located in any county or city embraced by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority established under section 15.2-4830.

The tax imposed under this section shall be imposed only for the occupancy of any room or space that is suitable or intended for occupancy by transients for dwelling, lodging, or sleeping purposes.

The revenue generated and collected from the tax shall be deposited by the Comptroller in the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Fund established under section 15.2-4838.01 on at least a monthly basis.

In other words, this “local” tax is actually state imposed, and the money will be spent by an unelected and unaccountable regional authority. Although the newest version of the bill still can’t be found online, in email correspondence, Delegate Marshall’s wife Catherine informed me that as far as she can tell all of the “local” tax increase UPDATE: I have seen the conference report version of the bill, and like the hotel occupancy tax, the grantors’ tax and sales tax are similarly Richmond-imposed and regionally shielded from the accountability of local voters. UPDATE: It appears the money will be sent back to the localities.

This, if anything, is actually worse than the referendum nonsense of 2002 or the HB3202 silliness as originally constructed. There is absolutely no increase in local taxing authority. It is all imposed from above.

Maddening…this thing must be voted down.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal