( – promoted by lowkell)
by Paul Goldman
It sure has been an interesting year since candidate Bob McDonnell made his first ABC proposal. McDonnell spent the last 12 months pushing a High Tax Plan. But when that didn’t work, he went to Plan B, a Big Deficit Plan. I can’t wait to see what Republicans have in mind for Plan C. But before we get to the ending, let’s at least enjoy the ride.
Yesterday, former Senator and Governor George Allen broke his calculated silence on the ABC debate, and became the first Republican heavyweight who wanted to be taken seriously by those knowledgeable on the subject. But do Mr. McDonnell and the Virginia GOP dare accept Mr. Allen’s challenge?
Back when he was only gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, the future chief executive was out promising to always be honest with the public, and tell them the truth. Having written a few of those mini Gettysburg Addresses for delivery by others, I thought he had the yada, yada, yada, down to a science. His promised ABC “privatization” plan was a case in point, as Richmond Times reporter Mike Martz makes clear in his good story today. Mr. Martz actually went back and read the McDonnell for Governor campaign press release on the subject. Back then, in clear language, Honest Abe, I mean Bob, promised the people his ABC plan would not create a hole in the state budget, that it would be “revenue neutral” in budget lingo. Even the Washington Post, who held the McDonnell ABC plan in maximum low regard, recently suggested Democrats might be forced to vote for the bad idea if it was revenue neutral and could actually raise $500 million for transportation. Last year, candidate McDonnell cited a Warner study commission report saying ABC privatization could be a good idea provided that fundamental parameter, revenue neutrality, was maintained.
When candidate Bob became Governor McDonnell, he assigned a very able staff guy, Eric Finkbeiner to develop his promised ABC “privatization” proposal. In the ensuing months, Mr. Finkbeiner did his best to keep the Governor’s promise. I spoke with Eric a few days ago, and he asked to see the revenue neutral – indeed revenue accretive – plan that I had mentioned in one of my columns questioning why McDonnell had abandoned his campaign promise of revenue neutrality. By the time Eric and I spoke, the campaign platform of 2009 was already cracking under the Governor’s feet as he was already justifying a $20 million dollar shortfall as close enough for government work. But the McDonnell government was only getting started ordering red ink by the barrel. Now, his latest plan has grown the budget hole to at least $47 million and counting.
Enter then, stage right, George Allen, whose silence until now had been instructive to me. It always seemed Allen’s silence was due to what was self-evident in the McDonnell plan to everyone but Grover Norquist: namely, that the original McDonnell ABC proposal had tens of millions in higher taxes despite a campaign pledge not to raise taxes.
So yesterday, Allen finally broke his silence because McDonnell had at last admitted to his GOP tax heresy. Revenue neutrality can be achieved my way without raising taxes, but not the McDonnell way.
George Allen made that point to Governor McDonnell: and so yesterday, the McDonnell team finally told Virginians the 2009 campaign promise was officially dead.
So More Taxes are now out in the McDonnell Plan. Instead, more Deficits are now in. Precisely why Republicans think higher deficits are good politics is a puzzlement for sure, but they do.
Which gets to the other shoe that George Allen has yet to drop: his principled support for referendums over the years in such matters of importance to the people of Virginia. Both he and another McDonnell supporter, former Governor Doug Wilder, made that point in 2004.
Is McDonnell likewise moving in Allen’s direction on a referendum?
Last month, Mr. Finkbeiner didn’t reject a referendum, but rather said one wasn’t necessary since the public had voted in 2009 for Mr. McDonnell knowing his ABC campaign promise. But now, the campaign promise has been abandoned as Mr. Martz showed this morning.
The public voted, under Mr. Finkbeiner’s analysis, for a revenue neutral plan, not a budget-buster as now being proposed.
McDonnell can’t have it both ways. Moreover, if he is serious about enacting his reform, he knows no fiscally responsible Democrat in either the House or Senate can vote for his Big Deficit plan in good conscience.
Based on the record, Mr. Allen would advise Mr. McDonnell to call for a referendum and asked the people whether they wanted the state to get out of the whiskey business, once and for all. Mr. Allen sees it as a principled issue. My own view is that the people of Virginia understand the pragmatism needed to successfully govern in these times, and will reject the McDonnell position as being $47 million short of practicality.
At least George Allen has the courage of his convictions, which is more than anyone can say for Mr. McDonnell and the Virginia GOP. They love to talk the talk, but they can’t walk the walk.
As I said at the start, it sure has been a interesting year since Mr. McDonnell made his first ABC proposal. He spent the last 12 months pushing a High Tax Plan. But when that didn’t work, he has gone to Plan B, a Big Deficit Plan. I can’t wait to see Plan C.