In what may be his George H.W. Bush moment, and much to the chagrin of Virginia’s conservatives, Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, along with Republican VA House Speaker William Howell, endorsed the largest tax increase in the history of Virginia on Saturday.
On paper, the General Assembly passed a bill to raise taxes to fund transportation projects that is slated to bring in $880 million more a year in taxes, but the true cost to taxpayers is estimated to be “$1.13 billion per year in tax increases.”
Regardless, it is by far the greatest tax increase in the history of the Commonwealth, surpassing the $442 million per year increase in 1986 and $680 million per year increase in 2004.
“This is a historic day in Virginia. We have worked together across party lines to find common ground and pass the first sustainable long-term transportation funding plan in 27 years,” McDonnell, who also may have plans to run for president in 2016, said in a statement on Saturday. “There is a ‘Virginia Way’ of cooperation and problem solving, and we saw it work again today in Richmond.”
Many conservatives in Virginia saw it as a “historic day” for other reasons.
A group of the state’s most influential conservative activists and bloggers wrote an open letter last weekend saying if the bill is “fully implemented,” it would “cost Virginia taxpayers over $1.3 billion in new taxes” and, “with the economy on a knife’s edge, additional taxes would damage employment (by raising the cost of business), consumption (by raising overall prices), and the overall business environment.”
“This is not the time to raise taxes on hard-working Virginian employers and employees,” the letter said.
The letter also said “this violation of faith damages our democracy in incalculable ways.”
“Every Republican statewide official (and most legislators) were elected on a promise not to raise taxes,” the conservative activists said in the letter. “This bill erodes the credibility of all future candidates and the ability of voters to hold said candidates accountable.”
As Norm Leahy, an influential Virginia conservative, wrote last weekend, when McDonnell was running for governor in 2009, he got into trouble when he told a reporter that he had “no plans to raise taxes.”
Those words did not sit well with conservatives then.
When asked to clarify his remarks in 2009, McDonnell’s campaign said then, “Bob McDonnell will not raise taxes as governor. Virginians know Bob McDonnell, and they know where he stands. They know he keeps his word…”