Bill Stanley’s School Plan Shuffles the Partisan Deck

Virginia legislators are about to face a policy choice with long-term political implications.

The issue is a proposal from Sen. Bill Stanley, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on School Facility Modernization, and my one-time Post co-author, Paul Goldman (disclosure: my son worked as an unpaid research assistant for the subcommittee).

The heart of the plan is for the state to issue $3 billion in general obligation bonds as a down payment on fixing the commonwealth’s decrepit public school infrastructure.

Writing in the Roanoke Times, the two say the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which opened the door to states acting on their own to collect sales taxes from online purchases, could result in Virginia reaping as much as $300 million in new revenue.

Stanley and Goldman want to divert half of that potential windfall to help finance the school reconstruction bonds.

But there’s confusion on whether the money is already committed elsewhere.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a sweeping transportation funding measure that dedicated potential online sales tax revenue to roads.

But that would only happen if Congress approved the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would establish a uniform system for states to collect online sales taxes.

Marketplace Fairness is still in limbo. Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said the online tax revenue would only be applied to transportation (and, in the process, lower the wholesale gas tax) if Congress approves the act.

Until then, it seems, the money is up for grabs.

Senate majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City), however, cautioned lawmakers to “demonstrate some fiscal discipline and channel this unanticipated revenue into our cash reserves” rather than spending it on pet projects in advance of the 2019 elections.

Fiscally prudent, perhaps. But politically uncertain. Stanley, along with Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R- Richmond), has weakened – but not undermined — Norment’s position within the GOP caucus.

Pushing the Stanley-Goldman plan over the line, then, will require Democratic support.

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