Transportation was one of the biggest issues of the gubernatorial campaign four years ago. Despite what appears to be a solution on the table, it appears it could be one of the biggest issues in 2013 as well.
Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D), the presumptive nominees for governor of both parties, have picked clears sides in the debate over the plan and are prepared to let voters decide which one is right.
McAuliffe has consistently supported Governor Bob McDonnell's efforts to forge a compromise. This despite some concerns from Democrats that the plan robs too much money from the state's general fund. McAuliffe even doubled down after McDonnell offered up his amendments this week by saying McDonnell was "overcoming last minute roadblocks thrown up by those who prefer extreme gridlock".
That gridlock he is referring to was directed at Cuccinelli, who not only disagreed with McDonnell from a policy perspective, but from a legal perspective as well. Cuccinelli the candidate was critical of how much the plan raised in taxes. Cuccinelli the Attorney General warned McDonnell that his plan to tax municipalities at different levels was unconstitutional. After McDonnell adjusted the plan Cuccinelli applauded the effort and seemed to indicate the new deal was a workable solution.
But that gets us back to the politics. Legal or not, the transportation funding plan, with its increase in taxes, shifting of general fund monies and creation of new and increased fees in other areas is controversial from a policy perspective. Yesterday on WRVA radio, Cuccinelli made it clear he is still very much against the plan as a policy.
"I have never been for this bill, and I wish you wouldn’t say that," Cuccinelli said to Jimmy Barrett when the host described Cuccinelli as a supporter of the revised plan. "I did my job as Attorney General to give advice to get it to be constitutional which is my baseline."
So to be clear, on the merits of the transportation plan as policy, Cuccinelli remains decidedly opposed.
"I have not supported this bill," he went on to say. "The only thing that we’ve pointed out is that we helped get it constitutional. That doesn’t mean I like it."
It is early and the bill is not law yet, but the early reviews are overwhelmingly positive. A new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows Virginians approve of McDonnell's transportation plan by a 3-1 margin. In fact according to the survey, Republicans, which have been the most vocal critics of the plan, support the measure by a margin of 32%- 10%.
But it is early.
While those who know about the plan like it, most of the people who responded to the poll (55%) didn't know enough about the plan to render judgment.
That indicates there is still plenty of time and opportunity for both sides to define both the issue and where they stand.
One thing is abundantley clear. McAuliffe is for the plan. Cuccinelli is against the plan.
We won't know until November how that impacts the way people vote.