For the second time this month, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli bucked Gov. Bob McDonnell by opposing a transportation proposed backed by the outgoing GOP governor, whom Cuccinelli, a fellow Republican, hopes to succeed in this fall's general election.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican weighing an independent candidacy for governor, endorsed the plan offered by the state legislature's conference committee, as did former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. The full General Assembly must still vote on the bill.
Cuccinelli issued a statement Thursday: "If reports are correct, this new bill contemplates a massive tax increase. In these tough economic times, I do not believe Virginia's middle class families can afford massive tax increases, and I cannot support legislation that would ask the taxpayers to shoulder an even heavier burden than they are already carrying, especially when the government proposes to do so little belt tightening in other areas of the budget."
McAuliffe's campaign responded with a statement that furthered the Democrat's continuing narrative about Cuccinelli being outside of "even the Republican mainstream."
Bolling, possibly seeking the elusive middle ground, deemed the bill imperfect but added that it is "an achievable plan."
"By definition, no compromise is perfect and no one gets everything they want. That is the essence of a compromise," said Bolling. "I strongly encourage members of the House and Senate to support this conference report."
Even though McDonnell endorsed Cuccinelli for governor after Bolling dropped out of the GOP primary, the conservative AG has not been shy about opposing the governor's transportation proposals. Earlier this month, Cuccinelli endorsed an alternative transportation plan, which eventually passed the House, instead of the one McDonnell initially proposed. McDonnell had originally backed Bolling in the primary, even cutting a video for him.
While Cuccinelli and Bolling have splintered with McDonnell at various points during this year's regular session of the General Assembly, which is set to expire this Saturday, the stakes are much higher for every party involved on transportation than other issues.
For the popular, term-limited McDonnell, a transportation plan would be his defining issue as he prepares to leave office after other major initiatives, like a plan to privatize liquor sales, fell through. Transportation is also a major quality-of-life issue for residents in populous Northern Virginia, which features the worst commute in the country, according to a recent Texas A&M study.
This is the furthest any comprehensive transportation funding overhaul has moved through the Virginia legislature since then-Gov. Tim Kaine signed the much derided "HB 3202" into law in 2007. Part of the bill called for the creation of regional authorities made up of officials already elected in various localities who could then vote on how to pay for road and transit projects.
GOP state Del. Bob Marshall later took Kaine to court and won a ruling from the state Supreme Court stating that non-elected bodies cannot raise and levy taxes, killing the key funding mechanism for regional projects in Kaine's plan.
That was a plan agreed to by a Republican-led legislature and Democratic governor.
Now, McDonnell is now dealing with a state House featuring a 2-to-1 GOP majority, a 20-20 Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, a spurned Republican lieutenant governor who said he is enjoying his new-found independence, and an attorney general well-known for marching to the beat of his own drummer.