Combating Revisionist History on Bob McDonnell and the Transportation Bill

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Among the many other absurd claims made by Bob McDonnell and his supporters to try and burnish his supposed "accomplishments" as governor of Virginia the past 4 years, perhaps the most absurd is how great he was on "fixing" transportation in Virginia. That's wrong on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin. Let's just review this history a bit, before the revisionism gets etched in stone.1. See my 9/26/09 blog post, which summarizes a Washington Post editorial (entitled "Drunk Driving"), blasting then-candidate Bob McDonnell's transportation "plan" as "yield[ing] only disappointment." Why is that? Well, perhaps because it "relies on wildly optimistic assumptions, brazen exaggerations, gauzy projections and far-off scenarios: budget surpluses and revenue growth that may not materialize; interstate tolls that the federal government may not approve; royalties from offshore oil and gas wells that may not be drilled; borrowing that the state may not be able to afford anytime soon." As if that's not bad enough, the Post adds that the $500 million McDonnell promises he'd raise from selling off Virginia's liquor stores is nothing but an "invented" number or, "worse, an intentional distortion." The bottom line, in the Post's (and my) view, is that McDonnell's 2009 transportation "plan" - using the word very loosely - "crumbles under close scrutiny." #FAIL
2. After being elected governor, McDonnell didn't do much about transportation. In January 2010, for instance, McDonnell said "he will not propose a fix during this year's legislative session." As Sen. Chap Petersen put it at the time, "McDonnell campaigned on the idea that he had a plan -- that he beat up Creigh for not having a plan -- so I'm very surprised not to see legislation to enact that plan during this session." Yep.
lowkell :: Combating Revisionist History on Bob McDonnell and the Transportation Bill
3. In March 2010, Rep. Jim Moran weighed in weighs in regarding Bob McDonnell's delusional belief that offshore oil revenues are just sitting out there, waiting for us to "drill baby drill" 'em out of the ground. As Moran pointed out, "any projections for offshore drilling revenue are a mirage," as "even under the most optimistic scenario, drilling would not occur for at least another eight years," and because "drilling would occur in federal waters, by law all royalties must go to the federal government." Dumb, dumber, dumberest.4. Finally, in January 2013, McDonnell proposed transportation legislation, and it was as godawful as you'd expect. As the Washington Post explained, the plan was "inadequate and unbalanced, reflecting the grip that anti-tax ideologues continue to exert over Mr. McDonnell and Republican Party stalwarts in Richmond." The Post pointed out several huge problems: the money McDonnell proposed was "a paltry sum when weighed against the need for new transportation dollars, generally put at $1 billion a year;" "McDonnell would get part of the rest of the way to the $1 billion level by raiding general-fund money - for schools, higher education, mental health, public safety and recreation - and shifting some $283 million a year to transportation;" and McDonnell "threw a Hail Mary pass" by "propos{ing} to dedicate an additional $222 million annually to transportation from a windfall that would materialize if Congress passes a measure known as the Marketplace Equity Act, which would allow states to collect sales taxes from Internet purchases."
5. On January 31, 2013, Sen. Chap Petersen mocked McDonnell's plan to "raise the sales tax on Virginia residents, eliminate the gas tax paid by out-of-state drivers, and charge a $100 penalty on hybrid vehicles." As if all that wasn't bad enough, McDonnell also proposed completely eliminating the state's gasoline tax, without (of course) suggesting any serious alternative. Can we say "complete and utter leadership #FAIL?"
6. In the end, the transportation package McDonnell first proposed was changed considerably, the result being that we ended up with a still-seriously-flawed law, but at least one that was not as bad as McDonnell originally proposed. Still, it's nothing to write home about, even if many Republicans and Democrats wrench their arms out of socket patting themselves on the back for passing a "bipartisan" deal (as if "bipartisan" automatically means "good").
7. Finally - NO, we have NOT solved Virginia's transportation problems by any stretch, nor are we any closer to having a serious vision for where Virginia's transportation system should be headed for 10, 20, 30, 50 years down the road, at a time when we need to be slashing fossil fuel consumption. Nor is there any vision of how transportation might integrate with land use in a serious smart-growth vision for Virginia. Instead, it's more likely that this law will simply perpetuate the huge mistakes we've made for decades in promoting a sprawl model of growth and development, one that has failed on almost every level, and one that is completely unsustainable and incompatible with the enormous challenge of climate change. Yet this was the "best" our political system, "led" by Governor McDonnell, could produce. It's pitiful, and certainly shouldn't be touted as a great "accomplishment" by Bob McDonnell. Not that anything will stop him from doing so, self-promoting politician that he is. Ugh.