It is not binding in any way. In theory it does nothing to hinder the progress of two important pieces of legislation currently sitting on Governor Bob McDonnell's desk.
But late Friday evening, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running to become the next governor, released a series of opinions two of which deal with the transportation funding compromise and a plan to open the door to an expansion of Medicaid.
In both opinions, requested by Del. Bob Marshall (R- Prince William County), Cuccinelli points out that specific issues he has with both bills.
On transportation, Cuccinelli takes issue with the plan to charge a higher sales tax in Northern Virginia designed to boost aid specifically to transportation projects in that area.
On Medicaid, the Attorney General said it is unconstitutional for the General Assembly to delegate the responsibility of expanding the program to another committe. He believes it must be handled by the entire legislative body.
It is important to point out that the Attorney General cannot, on his own, prevent these bills from going into law. These opinions are merely responses to queries from legislative members designed to get his take if the laws would stand up if the state were taken to court. As the state's chief lawyer, it would be Cuccinelli's job to defend these laws and he is making sure the people he represents understand his concerns before their passage.
Governor McDonnell is still free to sign these bills into law without any changes. But, having an Attorney General publicly on the record declaring the bill or eventually law unconstitutional makes it pretty difficult for his office to defend it if someone did decide to sue.
McDonnell's office said that the Governor has been in close contact with the Attorney General throughout this process and is aware of his constiutional questions related to the bill.
"Every bill passed by the General Assembly is reviewed by the attorney general," said McDonnell spokesman Paul Shanks. "We will consider that advice as we make a final determination on necessary amendments to the legislation."
McDonnell has until the 25th to either veto or amend the passed legislation. He has been a vocal supporter of both measures, but proposed a much different transportation plan than the one eventually passed. He has since taken hefty criticism from the right who argue the hike in taxes is too much.
There is obviously a political aspect to this maneuver as well. We will talk more about that in a future post.