(A problem may be how to find members for a “Blue Ribbon” Commission with the business and economic savvy and the integrity necessary to avoid the manipulation of the politically savvy. – promoted by Dan Sullivan)
On ABC privatization, GOP Governor McDonnell faces his Craig Deeds moment: can he turn lemons into lemonade, something the Democratic couldn’t do last year.
By Paul Goldman
Pondering his choices, Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Castaway” stands at a four way intersection in rural America, thinking perhaps of the wisdom in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” [ copied in full below]. At last year’s key Fairfax Chamber debate, GOP candidate Bob McDonnell held up a blank piece of paper and said it represented the transportation plan of his Democratic opponent. It was an audacious ploy by McDonnell, in good measure because the Republican’s plan wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, as clear now as it should have been then.
In that regard, the centerpiece of that plan – ABC privatization – has now comeback to haunt Governor McDonnell. Or maybe not, the choice is his and there is increasing evidence he knows it. Gone is the bravado of the McDonnell Administration evinced for a year now, promising “at least” $500 million in new transportation funds and a revenue-neutral plan to get the state totally out of the hard liquor business. In it’s place, there is a growing recognition that when you are in a hole, it is best to stop digging.
What made candidate McDonnell’s political ploy so effective in 2009 – and why it threatens to boomerang in 2010, is the most basic rule of politics: you can’t disprove a negative once it takes hold in the public’s mind. Creigh Deeds instinctively realized his problem. But his campaign panicked, and made a fateful mistake. They say he lost because he had the courage to say this: “Let me be clear regarding taxes: I will sign …a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation — even if it includes new taxes” wrote the candidate in a now famous OPED for the Washington Post.
But this ignores the biggest problem with the Deeds position, which he spelled out this way in the same OPED column: “We all largely agree about what’s needed to fix our infrastructure. Where my opponent and I disagree is how to accomplish those improvements.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t true, as Mr. Deeds’ OPED piece proves. He can point to no document produced by what historically is known as a “Blue Ribbon” gubernatorial commission, especially one created by a Republican Governor, that has the kind of stature and credibility responsible for producing a Transportation 2050 Initiative. Yes, Mr .Deeds article contains the usual generic list of political correct buzz words on various generalized projects, and double yes, the state does have an arm of the Transportation Department which is constantly turning out studies on the subject, as have various other legislative and other groups.
But the “Vision” statement Mr. Deeds’ says is there – which he concedes is the necessary pre-requisite to any responsible discussion of the next step – doesn’t exist in the “Blue Ribbon” form. Ironically, his OPED acknowledges the need for such a group, but he puts the political cart before the gubernatorial horse by talking new taxes instead of a new vision.
Bottom line: We don’t need a “Blue Ribbon” commission to tell us how to raise taxes, our politicians have proven quite capable in this regard. But what we do need is what politicians and their minions can’t provide: the respected transportation, economic and quality of life expertise to lay out the transportation grid we must have in 2050 to make Virginia all it must be. It maybe more extensive and more costly than I might think: or less so, why let the 24/7 Internet commentariat decide both what should think, and the factual basis for that thinking, for us.
Previous generations of Virginians were able to come to a consensus on transportation, producing what was considered among the best state systems in the whole country even though it is one of the largest. I have full confidence this generation can do the same once we can develop the “Vision.” For example, with the advent of electric cars, high MPG rated vehicles, and the growing ability of individuals to work from home, it is very possible that in terms of the automobile, our policy assumptions are no longer valid going forward.
Enter then, Governor McDonnell, who can expect to see Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds stand on the floor of the body next January, holding up an empty sheet of paper entitled “McDonnell’s Transportation Plan”, as the major toll revenues, the offshore oil royalties and the $500 or more ABC privatization on “windfall” promised last year by Mr. McDonnell as more billions for a transportation funding “fix” has been exposed as empty rhetoric.
But at the same time, this need to reboot on transportation gives Governor McDonnell a unique chance to turn lemons into lemonade. In my view he can, but he needs to show his inner Ronald Reagan, who knew when the script needed a rewrite. Indeed, more than perhaps any modern President, Reagan reached across the aisle on key domestic issues without ever being accused of violating any of his principles. It was quite a feat.
Yet McDonnell can do it on transportation, which he now concedes is the major reason for his ABC focus. All he needs to do is this:
1. Concede that there is no way ABC privatization can raise the kind of money he once thought possible for transportation. Therefore, he needs to go to a retail-only ABC privatization approach that is revenue-neutral, indeed can be revenue-accretive as I have shown.
2. In return for Democratic support for this new ABC plan, the Governor, in consultation with Democratic Senator Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and House Speaker Bill Howell, both pledging to seek the views of the minority party in their respective chambers, will create a “Blue Ribbon” Commission on such integrity and ability on the transportation issue that even those who will disagree with their findings will not credibly be able to refute the bipartisan, pro-Virginia credentials of the members. This Commission will be tasked to come up with the “2050 Vision” and it’s projected capital requirements along with operational maintenance.
3. Once the “Blue Ribbon” Commission provides it’s report by January, 2012, the Governor will present the findings to the General Assembly, and ask both chambers whether they agree or disagree with the “Vision.” If the “Vision” is adopted, then the Governor, conjunction with the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, will create a new “Blue Ribbon” Commission to develop financing options should it be determined that revenue growth alone can not provide the funding. Their report will be due on January 2013.
At which point, those who want to be the next Governor of Virginia will have their campaigns to decide how to engage the people of the state in the conversation.
Or: Governor McDonnell can think small, focus only on his shrunken ABC plans, which ironically will only highlight his failure to deliver on a transportation plan. Moreover, given the fact the people of Virginia have little interest in changing the ABC system, his continued efforts will seem to be focusing on a non-existent problem when real ones are put on the back burner.
In effect, he will give Mr. Deeds a chance, should he want to do it, to hold up that blank piece of paper for the next 3 years, day after day, although the image will not take so long to sink into the public mind set.
So Mr. McDonnell can continue to produce lemons, or he can turn them into lemonade. His choice.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference