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Cortez: With Respect To Transportation, Have Conservatives Forgotten Reagan?

By Daniel P. Cortez

cortez_headshot [1]The ideological war for conservative purity has never been greater as attacks from purveyors of party principle question the wisdom of Governor Bob McDonnell’s transportation reformation. Well they criticized Ronald Reagan too.

McDonnell masterfully garnered 50 percent of Republican legislators and a bi-partisan mixture of 44 republicans and 43 democrats supporting his historic bill. And seizing on the moment, democrats attempt to steal the spotlight and take credit for the legislation recognizing Virginia’s future employment outlook once H.B. 2313 is implemented.

Sadly as inner family protestations over the taxable components of the bill continue, perhaps it is prudent to remind hard corps conservatives there are no guarantees of no or low taxes constitutionally.

Nevertheless attempts to skewer McDonnell over actions Reagan similarly took as governor and president do little to advance party unity in the eyes of changing voter demographics.
Examples are the recent shrill ranting of commentator Mark Levin stating “The Republican party cannot survive and doesn’t deserve to survive,” over McDonnell’s actions and pledging to personally oppose each and every member of the state house who voted for the bill. The self-appointed Godfather of in your face conservatism, perhaps needs a sedative and a reality check.

Levin sadly plays the chameleon at will and shamelessly fails to acknowledge his former boss…the benevolent Ronald Reagan himself as governor, raised taxes …not once… but several times in California to record highs and 11 times nationally when in the White House. Tragically the only thing missing for the gullible during Levin’s diatribe on McDonnell was his standard self-promotion for a new book perhaps to be called “Forgive me Ronald Reagan; I was just trying to stir the pot and make a fast buck.”

And now with a cued chorus of “the tax man is coming…the tax man is coming” extremist tea party self-appointed leaders attempt to resuscitate a comatose Virginia movement and misrepresent McDonnell and what his vision truly will bring.

That Reaganistic vision was more jobs for Virginia.

In examining the facts, it’s been 27 years since the Commonwealth passed a long-term funding and reform plan for transportation. We struggle with the nation’s worst congestion in Northern Virginia according to a 2012 study by the Texas Transportation Institute, and road improvements are a critical necessity.

Commuters in the Washington region face 67 hours of delay yearly costing $1,398 per driver. The Virginia Beach and Richmond areas rank as the 20th and 60th worst nationally. At a cost of $877 and $581 per driver annually; needless to say our economic competiveness is being negatively impacted.

This was demonstrated by Virginia’s drop in last year’s CNBC rankings as the “Best States for Business” from first to third. With specificity, in the areas of infrastructure and transportation Virginia dropped from 10th to 33rd.

Clearly McDonnell saw the need for new revenues when after auditing and reforming VDOT, authorizing new bonds, creating the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank and providing two-thirds of all surplus funds that were undesignated to transportation still did not produce needed funding. He also created new public-private partnerships for toll roads but it wasn’t enough.

His new plan would eliminate Virginia’s maintenance crossover problems as the $364 million yearly designated for construction is used for road maintenance. It may increase to $500 million annually by 2018.

The bottom line is that in five years there will be $3.5 billion in new funding for new construction, rail needs and mass transit. And in the same five years $344.5 million will go towards education. His plan aids every city and county in the state. But the naysayers again desire more exclusivity when it comes to discretionary funding and contest ANY tax increase… just not conservative cricket. Yes we must acknowledge no tax is ever timely… especially now. Still they criticized “the great communicator” as well, but his acts of tough love were proven insightful.

McDonnell is wisely moving Virginia into the 22nd century where due to the realities of new energy sources and revenues, moving from the gas tax to sales taxes provides a more sustainable source of revenue.

His plan of eliminating the 17.5 cent gas tax gas tax and applying a lower 3.5% lower wholesale gas tax will reduce the price at the pump by an estimated 6 cents per gallon. And the planned 5.3% state sales tax would still be the lowest in the region.

Reducing or eliminating Virginia’s dependency on gas tax revenue ties funding to the sales tax which would grow with the economy. Realistically with the McDonnell plan, a driver would save approximately 90 cents for a 15 gallon refuel. Says who?

Says a Chmura study that publishes economic trends and forecasts suggesting Virginia would likely enjoy the lowest gas prices on the east coast and more revenues for local and state coffers.

Again it remains pertinent to notice the zeal in how Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe endorsed the McDonnell plan. He clearly recognizes the millions of dollars in revenues created by thousands of jobs during “his” watch if elected and would unabashedly take credit for it.

From an outreach perspective this remains troubling for the minority community to see a conservative gubernatorial candidate fail to embrace a program designed to put more Virginians back to work. And Prince William’s Delegate Bob Marshall has done Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli no favors by demanding clarity over the provision on Medicaid reform and expansion. Does Marshall forget McDonnell WAS at one time Virginia’s Attorney General?

Cuccinelli has nothing to gain by using legalese to undermine the man who controls the bully pulpit in his quest to become Virginia’s next chief executive. He’s supposed to have the advantage in off year elections but has an outreach problem. Cuccinelli remains Virginia’s tea party hero and its principles should indeed be embraced. But tragically like the Republican Party, the movement remains in transition after the shellacking it took in November. The party and particularly Cuccinelli need to focus its outreach to minority communities that view him and many of them as insensitive on issues such as legal immigration and race in general.

While no piece of legislation is a perfect one, McDonnell has nevertheless demonstrated vision, outreach and resolve dealing with a transportation crisis that has plagued Virginia for decades. In review he no doubt will make minor changes to the bill but keep the bulk of a successful bi-partisan legislative landmark session.

Under McDonnell’s disciplined stewardship Virginia has had three straight budget surpluses and passed language for tax relief and credits totaling $559.4 million from 2010 scheduled through 2017. His 53 percent approval rating is indicative of being embraced particularly by veterans and our diverse minority community. He has lead responsibly and should sign the bill.

But continued consternation and party division caused by second string commentators and arm chair governors who have never had their names on a ballot all but guarantee the next governor’s name will be McAuliffe.

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Daniel Cortez, a distinguished Vietnam veteran is a Northern Virginia political writer/broadcaster and a longtime legal immigration and veterans advocate. He has been an adviser on various state, local and national campaigns. Reach him at [email protected]