By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND – In classic Democratic Party fashion, Terry McAuliffe wants to spend more state tax dollars on transportation, education, tourism and health care.
But the gubernatorial candidate who touts his business acumen has yet to put a full price tag on his proposals, or say how he would fund them.
“It’s the oldest trick in the political book. Politicians promise a lot of things, but never talk about how to pay for them,” notes Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
In speeches and interviews, McAuliffe has called for:
- Higher teacher pay.
- Increased funds to make college more affordable.
- Better retirement benefits for teachers.
- Higher spending on K-12 education.
- Increased research funds for higher education.
- Increased spending on tourism.
- Increased spending on inner-city passenger rail.
- Expanded rail service throughout Virginia.
- Increased funding for rural health care.
- Increased funding for mental health.
The Democrat, according to research by America Rising, a conservative PAC, has provided rough cost estimates in only two categories — $700 million annually for higher teacher pay and $225 million for college “affordability.” No funding sources have been identified for any of the 10 spending priorities.
Craig Brians, a political science professor at Virginia Tech, said McAuliffe’s agenda is problematic.
“Although all politicians make aspirational claims when running for office, the less governmental experience one has, the more dangerous those promises,” Brians told Watchdog.
“The devil is in the details, and Virginians aren’t likely to see what that devil looks like until the new governor unveils his program in December,” added Quentin Kidd, political science professor at Christopher Newport University.
Democrats accuse Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli of promoting tax cuts without detailing how he would offset them. The attorney general wants to reduce tax rates and abolish the Business Professional Occupational Licensing tax, which captures as much as 14 percent of company earnings.
Farnsworth said the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli gambits are two sides of the same coin.
“Spending or tax cuts — it’s a distinction without a difference. Neither is a strategy for being honest with the voters; it’s a strategy for getting elected,” he said.
A 2011 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission estimated that 90 percent of prospective tax revenue — some $12.5 billion — leaks out annually from “preferences” and credits in the state code.
Theoretically, some of that $12.5 billion could bankroll a portion of McAuliffe’s spending or offset some of Cuccinelli’s tax reductions.
So far, however, neither Republican nor Democratic lawmakers have made a serious effort to close loopholes or curb credits.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis argues that neither major party is fighting for “good public policy.”
“I’m not focused on tax cuts, but on improving the tax code and reducing administrative bloat,” he told Watchdog.
“Libertarians couldn’t ask for a better environment,” Farnsworth noted. “But they don’t get much media attention or financial support. The challenge is to even be heard when the big parties are spending at record levels.”
Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward