Will Ken Cuccinelli Follow in Bob McDonnell’s Footsteps by Raising Taxes?FeaturedPolicyPolitics

itsatax2By Paul Blair

Ken Cuccinelli is a tried-and-true conservative politician who believes in the principles of limited government and opposes higher taxes, right? Not so fast.

In a recent meeting with business leaders, the Attorney General stated that he would not be making a written commitment to Virginia voters to oppose higher taxes by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The Pledge reads as follows:

I, ____________, pledge to the

taxpayers of the State of _________

that I will oppose and veto

any and all efforts to increase taxes.

The language of this written commitment is not new. In fact, the federal Taxpayer Protection Pledge was created in 1986 at the request of President Ronald Reagan as part of an effort to protect the lower marginal tax rates created by the Tax Reform Act of that year.

Voters, especially conservative ones, value a simple Yes or No answer in writing on higher taxes. That’s exactly why 219 US Congressmen and 39 US Senators have signed the Pledge to their constituents to oppose higher taxes. At the state level, more than 1,000 state legislators have taken the Pledge including 30 Virginia legislators and Ken Cuccinelli, who signed it in 2009 in his bid for Attorney General.

Though Ken signed the Pledge in 2009, he’s suggested that he’s not going to put in concrete terms his opposition to higher taxes this year. Does it matter?

With four years of service as Virginia’s Attorney General and a looming gubernatorial campaign, his stance on a number of issues is clear. He’s anti-Obamacare, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-property rights, believes in school choice, supports offshore drilling, prioritizes the transportation “crisis,” has a jobs-centric campaign, Terry McAuliffe is running for Governor, and he says he’s opposed to raising taxes. Sound familiar? That’s because the year is 2009 and the candidate is Bob McDonnell.

Fast-forward four years. Governor McDonnell failed to overcome the plague of Virginia Governors: the “transportation” problem, also known as the inability to prioritize transportation spending as a core government expenditure problem. Within the next month, he may sign a $6.15 billion tax hike as an alternative to this obligation, the largest tax hike in Virginia history.

Though he said numerous times that he would not raise taxes in 2009, he refused to put that promise in writing by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to Virginia taxpayers. Four years later he pulled what PolitiFact called “a full flip-flop” by supporting the largest tax hike in Virginia history. The lesson? When a politician refuses to put their promise to reject higher taxes in writing, taxpayers should be suspicious.

Virginia taxpayers’ greatest lesson in the midst of preparing for higher gas, diesel, sales, property, hotel, car, and alternative vehicle registration taxes should be to demand that those who say they will oppose higher taxes put it in writing for everyone to see. To the dismay of tax hikers, taxpayers and voters are less forgiving of those who break written promises as opposed to spoken ones. According to Stanford’s Michael Tomz and Berkeley’s Robert Van Houweling, voters – no matter their opinions on taxes or spending cuts – hate politicians who break pledges.

The desire among Republicans to elect Republicans who sound like limited government, low-taxers should coincide with their desire to elect people who will govern with the same principles they campaign with. That’s where the simplicity and effectiveness of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge comes in – it nearly always ensures the no-new-tax promise guides the governance.

No Virginia crisis is so great that a politician’s promise is disposable. Bob McDonnell himself campaigned against Tim Kaine’s transportation “fix,” a tax hike smaller than his own, because there were alternative solutions. Unfortunately, Governor McDonnell lacked the strength to govern as the conservative that Virginia needed.

Ken Cuccinelli will also have a mere 4 years to accomplish his goals. That’s the nature of serving as Virginia’s governor.

Fortunately, the era of Bob McDonnell’s power to impose his big government greater spending “solutions” to Virginia’s transportation “problem” has almost passed. Pending an unlikely veto, the taxpayers have lost and we must move on as we always have when Democrats have been in charge.

Will Ken Cuccinelli, who has articulated the same principles that Bob McDonnell did in 2009, follow in his footsteps with higher taxes? Or, will he instead commit to voters in writing to stand with them by rejecting the notion that more government spending and higher taxes are a “fix” to any of our problems? With “tax reform” being one of Ken Cuccinelli’s vague campaign planks, voters would be wise to contact the Attorney General and ask that he stand with them by again signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the written guarantee to oppose and veto all tax hikes that land on his desk.


Paul Blair is Americans for Tax Reform’s state communications associate. For more information on ATR’s fight to hold Virginia politicians accountable, visit www.vataxpayersfund.org.

  • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

    Yet another who doesn’t get what big government really means.

    • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

      Contrary to your opinion, big government has many meanings. It can also mean too large, cost ineffective, and continually growing. But you seemed to have missed the point here.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

        Paul we missed the part where the previous signers of the ATR pledge would get hammered for violating the constraints in the pledge which make it harder to reform the tax code, entitlement reform and other issues many of the most fiscally conservative republicans oppose. Your ATR head honcho is a phony and deals with some less than scrupulous characters such as Jack Abramoff which ATR laundered money for. Norquist also opposed killing ethanol subsidies and do not tell me he did not. Yes I said that and I stand by my words. How rude of you to put our AG on the spot when your past signers raised our debt limit and failed miserably at making any meaningful cuts in Congress. What good is signing your pledge when the intent of it seems to expire after elections? I applauded our congressman Scott Rigell for backing out of the ATR pledge which in my not so humble opinion is an underhanded attempt by your special interest group to rule the roost. Something I find almost homorous is that there is no renewal date for the ATR pledge. What a joke. Credit cards expire, driver licenses expire but ATR? Sign here and you are a life member? All the congressmen who signed it and lied about slashing taxes got a pass from Grover..

        Signing the ATR pledge would inhibit REAL tax reforms we desperately need and you know it mister.. Its a good thing Ken did NOT sign your phony pledge which is merely a clever way to buy the people we elect! Any candidate who would sign your worthless pledge is violating their oath to the people who elected them.

      • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

        No, I got the point. You guys don’t like tax increases for any reason. I just disagree with you that there is anything in politics so precise that you can give it a yes or no answer. Ken is doing the right thing by focusing on what his constituents need, not pledges.

        • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

          To the contrary: to run for office and to take a position on higher taxes is something that voters value. Do you not think that people are entitled to know whether a politician intends on making it more expensive to live and work in this state? McDonnell at least went as far as to say he would not be raising taxes. He just happened to be lying which makes sense in the context of his refusal to put it in writing.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

            Oh please, you are just too country club to be a good republican, Paul. Between Rove, Norquist and the rest of you tainted scoundrels we have some work to do in order to remove you if we think we want a republican in the WH by 2016. As for Va, you and Norquist are full of BS. If Cuccinelli signed the ATR pledge we would have been disappointed. ATR is a crutch for thin skinned rinos with spines of linguine who will never fix our tax code.

          • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

            Country club? That’s a new one directed at me. Do you have a habit of trolling the internet to say stupid things like this? BTW, Cuccinelli signed the Pledge before.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

            And he did not sign it this time. Good news travels fast.

          • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

            I think voters are entitled to an elected official who is going to use his judgment and make the best decision possible based on what is politically feasible and what is in their best interests. That’s why I didn’t sign the ATR pledge when I ran.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002069829708 Daniel Cortez

          As did Bob McDonnell. You are correct on this Brian.

          • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

            And we got $6.15 billion in higher taxes. Yay.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002069829708 Daniel Cortez

            It took blind naysayers a few years before they could see the courage and wisdom of similar action taken by another good man….Ronald Reagan who acted for all citizens not just a segment….That is true leadership… And we revere his action. May your sight be restored sir.

  • pinecone321

    So what is Mr. Blair proposing with this article? If Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t sign the “pledge” that everyone should vote for the Democrat? Last i checked it is between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe. Anyone who doesn’t have the clue that liberals lie over and over belong in the low information voter category.

    If the “medicaid expansion committee” meets next year, and they decide to pass the Obamacare required expansion to an ever increasing number on the medicaid rolls, and the feds don’t or can’t cover the expansion costs, who in the hell is going to pay for it? Perhaps the tooth fairy can increase the take under the pillows??? Maybe the fountain of youth will be found between now and then. Maybe those magic money tree seeds will miraculously be found. More likely it just may be giving grandma, the mentally disabled, the elderly and the misfits the pill, or just really push them all over the cliff.

    • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

      Or…wait for it….wait for it…the state government should cut spending. Also, you’re completely mistaken in the belief that the Medicaid expansion is mandatory. Perhaps you missed the news in the aftermath of the Obamacate Supreme Court decision.

      • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

        We have a balanced budget. This isn’t the federal government, and cutting spending would necessarily mean harming other core priorities at the expense of transportation. That wasn’t an acceptable option.

        • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

          Surpluses for first three years of McDonnell administration: 1.4 billion. 99 million went to transportation. Spending increase over 10 years: nearly 100%. To argue that it wasn’t acceptable to reverse course on a budget twice the size as it was a decade ago neglects the will of the people who actually elected McDonnell. To suggest that spending more money on new roads instead of on other things the state pays for also neglects the responsibility of people who campaign as conservatives to govern like them.

          • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

            And plenty of pundits, including contributors here, called those surpluses accounting gimmicks. Regardless, the General Assembly has already set up a way of dealing with surpluses, and despite the efforts of some to change this, the money doesn’t go strictly to transportation. As for spending increases over 10 years, yes, spending has gone up as our revenues have gone up. I’m not neglecting the will of the people who elected McDonnell – I was one of them, and I elected him to balance the budget in the first year without raising taxes. He did that. He also worked hard to get more money for transportation without raising taxes than any Governor in the last ten years. It simply wasn’t enough, and there wasn’t a possibility of getting more from cuts. That was tried and it failed.

            McDonnell has governed like a conservative. We believe in keeping taxes low – and they still are, even under this plan. Our sales taxes are lower than all of our neighbors, our gas tax has been shifted off the backs of taxpayers directly. He kept taxes low. That’s why we elected him.

            It’s laughable that you all are going to throw away the last three years of one of the most effective Republican governors in the United States because he did his job and governed. As a conservative, I didn’t elect McDonnell to be a slave to your tax pledge. I want him to do his job. And he’s done it.

          • http://twitter.com/gopaulblair Paul Blair

            Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: 1 – the Pledge is to taxpayers (feel free to scroll up and read it) 2 – “most effective Republican governors”? Really? I’d suggest you check out some of the real accomplishments of America’s other Republican governors, most of whom did more than simply balance their budgets.

          • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

            Yes, really. We are still one of the top states for business. Our schools are world class. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation – the lowest for any state of our size and population. Our budget was balanced and remains so, and we’ve had surpluses as you’ve noted. He’s had an average approval rating of 51%, and remains one of the most popular governors in America. What exactly were the “real” accomplishments of other governors?

            Virginia is one of the best governed and best managed states in the union. It’s pathetic that you guys are trying to besmirch McDonnell’s record for one bill that he hasn’t even signed yet and didn’t write.

          • Will Upton

            You also, like Maryland, benefit from the largesse of the Federal Government. Northern Virginia would not be nearly so developed if it weren’t in such close proximity to the Imperial City (Washington, DC for those who don’t get the reference). Without the Federal Government and the jobs that come with it – not just government jobs either, the contractors and the consultants, the political organizations, the lobbyists, all of them – there would be no need for so many restaurants, hotels, tour businesses, wineries, and I could go on. Virginia does well because of big government and that is perhaps the Commonwealth’s greatest problem. But if Republicans in Congress are successful, then Virginia will be in for a rude awakening. There are few appropriators like Frank Wolf left, and someday the pork will stop rolling in and the Federal Government will shrink down a bit to live within its means – and Virginia will be in real trouble then.

          • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

            This is why Northern Virginia has been diversifying its business base for the last decade.

          • Will Upton

            You can diversify all you want, but Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads/Norfolk are still reliant on the Federal Government. Without the jobs brought by big government neither area could sustain itself. When you drive out to Dulles what do you see? Defense contractors, major consulting firms for miles. Arlington is chalk full of government contractors, consultants, lobbyists, and more. The fact is, the Federal Government is the backbone of growth in Northern Virginia and when it stops growing, NoVa will feel the brunt of it.

          • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

            That’s simply not true. We’re the Silicon Valley of the East. Every major tech company is either based or has major headquarters in Fairfax. Most lobbyists are in DC, not Virginia. There are some non-profits that are in VA, but if you’re a lobbyist you want to be downtown. We’ve got a world renowned health care system with Inova Fairfax Hospital as the anchor, and we’ve got multiple colleges and universities here, including the largest university in Virginia, George Mason. Again, we’ve diversified our tax base. I was just at an Economic Advisory Commission meeting a few weeks ago and the direct federal jobs base in Fairfax, at least, is only 10%. If the Federal Government up and left tomorrow, yes, it would hurt the area, but it wouldn’t completely devastate us.

      • pinecone321

        I am very well aware that medicaid expansion is not mandatory, and that it was the only portion of Ocare struck down by the SC, however, did Bob McDonnell not announce that there was a committee formed to consider whether the state should accept the federal government monies to expand medicaid in the state? McDonnell said that he was against the expansion unless there were significant reforms, but that will be up to the already formed committee. The state has not yet decided if they will join other states in the expansion. That would be something a Gov. Cuccinelli would have to deal with.

        Should the state cut spending? sure, I never said otherwise.

  • George from Cleveland

    The ATR pledge is a net vote loser. Grover Norquist has a sordid history and is only a nominal conservative. He’s one of those people that polarizes independents and Reagan Democrats against the right because he clearly appears to be only out for his own pocket and the pockets of his rich donors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeanine.martin.7 Jeanine Martin

    Cut the damn spending and make transportation a priority, assuming that it is a priority. How hard is this for elected officials to understand?? It’s not rocket science, but Virginia politicians seem incapable of understanding it. Cut the spending and prioritize! Sheeze. If republicans can’d to that, who needs them?!!!

    • http://www.brianschoeneman.org/ Brian W. Schoeneman

      It’s not that simple, Jeanine. You know this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.nicholson.355744 Andrew Nicholson

    A better idea would be to have a ‘Tax Reform Pledge’ … a promise from politicians to scrap the current system instead of a mindless “I am not going to raise taxes under any circumstances pledge”.

    On the Federal level there is a reason the tax code is 4,000,000 pages long and it is not to benefit those individuals who spend the night before April 15 looking for some final deductions to reduce their personal tax burden. GE is the largest tax payer in China. GE pays NO taxes in United States. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

    In Virginia the highest income tax rate is applied on incomes over $17,500. That rate hasn’t changed since 1985, through both Democratic and Republican administrations in Richmond. A 5.75% income tax rate on someone in poverty? Get real.

    It would take someone of character like Ken Cuccinelli to lead the tax reform in Virginia. I am glad he is not signing.

    • Will Upton

      The Pledge is a Tax Reform Pledge. It creates a framework in which a legislature can pursue revenue neutral tax reform and not fear retribution from folks who would call them tax hikers. That’s why the Pledge was created. If the Pledge prevented tax reform then how is Kansas enacting comprehensive tax reform or Louisiana, or North Carolina (Virginia better keep an eye on that), or any other state where many in the legislature have signed the Pledge? Let’s eliminate distortions in the tax code and lower the overall rates accordingly. Let’s make Virginia’s tax code simple and easy to work with. The Pledge helps do just that. you can raise a tax, just offset it by lowering another equally. When you raise taxes without offsets, all you are doing is growing the size and scope of government and I think that is something we can all oppose.

  • John Fredericks

    Seriously, Paul? The Grover Norquist tax pledge is an inside the beltway creature that is self serviing and illogical. The AG said he would not sign any silly special interest pledges as he tries to assure the business community that he gets the keys to economic expansion. It’s the first step towards the executive political maturation of the Ken Cuccinelli campaign for governor. Bravo to him for standing up to silly pledges from lobbyists of all stripes. John Fredericks

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

      What he said.. A fiscally conservative man or woman of their word who feels compelled to sign the ATR or any special interest pledge of this nature is telling voters they are not well grounded to the promises they make. Kind of like meeting with a divorce lawyer the day before the wedding to hold you accountable to your vows just in case.

    • Will Upton

      I fail to see how a Pledge to voters and taxpayers and in it’s own words “the people” of X district and state is a “special interest” Pledge. That is, unless, John Fredericks thinks that voters and taxpayers are a special interest.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1427002848 James Cohen

        In this case it is to an organization that holds them accountable to the organization.. The pledge men of their word make is to uphold the constitution and their allegiance to the flag. The ATR is a gimmick no worthy elected official need sign to prove they are something other than what they promised voters they would be. It is easier to count the number of people to did not violate the pledge. Shall we review the pledge signers who voted for essentially no tax cuts, debt limit increases, etc?

        • Will Upton

          James, I’m having trouble understanding your point – there is this thing called grammar – but I think you misunderstand 1. the Pledge 2. what the Pledge is aimed to do. The Pledge is not to ATR, it is not to Grover. You can read the language of the Pledge at the beginning of Paul’s article. It is to the people, the voters. It makes a candidate or elected official’s stance on higher taxes clear – they oppose them. The Pledge encourages honesty and helps our lawmakers stand up to special spending interests – they just have to point to their Pledge and say, “Hey, I promised the people who sent me here to represent them that i would not raise their taxes. I intend to keep that promise.” Without higher taxes the government will learn to live within its means. The Debt Limit is a whole other beast, lawmakers should be weary of taking on too much debt as servicing the debt could become unmanageable. But in the same breath, that does not give credence to the impulse politicians have to raise taxes instead. They’re taking other peoples money, that is wrong. We need officials who understand that we need economic growth to increase state revenues not higher taxes or more borrowing. Unfortunately James, you don’t seem to understand this. You’d rather just sit back and take pot shots hoping to score some cheap political points.

  • http://twitter.com/tylercraddock Tyler Craddock

    Yeah, I think we need more pledges and contracts. I say make them sign on a whole litany of issues, even down to the finer points of how *exactly* they would vote on things like the Rule Against Perpetuities or hauling permits for tank wagons or the state reptile. The more the better. That way, we don’t have to worry about electing people who can think and exercise judgment, and we don’t have to waste time debating and discussing issues in the legislature because all everyone will need to do is look at their contract to know how to vote. In other words, it makes it very easy. We don’t have to worry about electing good legislators; we only have to elect ones who sign the right pledges.

    • http://www.facebook.com/taxplaya Ryan Ellis

      History has shown that anyone who makes a conscious decision not to sign the Pledge is signaling very strongly that they plan on raising taxes if elected. It’s probably a 100% correlation.

      What’s the point of having a VA GOP if both parties want to raise taxes?