McAuliffe, Cuccinelli buddy up to McDonnell on transportation

Both candidates for Virginia governor in 2013 used the occasion of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s amendments to a sweeping transportation funding package to bolster their standing with potential voters in the commonwealth this fall.

But one guy may have a harder time than the other when it comes to getting on the bandwagon.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe helped muster support for the measure from Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates.

On Tuesday he issued a statement that praised McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Democrats and Republicans who supported the compromise that produced the package, which raises billions for road maintenance, construction, rail and mass transit through a series of fuel tax, vehicle tax and sales tax increases.

“A modern transportation system is integral to our goal of making Virginia the best for business, and this can only be accomplished through bipartisan compromise,” McAuliffe said. “I urge the General Assembly to approve these amendments and make the first meaningful progress on transportation in nearly 30 years.”

Republican Ken Cuccinelli also issued a statement that struck a collaborative tone.

“I was honored to work with members of the McDonnell Administration in making sure the legislation was able to move forward without the threat of any legal challenges,” he said. “Moving forward, I remain committed to working to fix Virginia’s transportation problems, which will create jobs and ease congestion across the commonwealth.”

But not too long ago, Cuccinelli was anything but supportive of the plan that came out of the legislature’s conference committee, calling it a “massive tax increase.” Here is what he said:

“The bill that has reportedly come out of conference is vastly different than the proposals made by Governor McDonnell earlier this session and appears to have a very different fiscal impact on the general fund and Virginia taxpayers,” Cuccinelli said in a statement on February 22.

 “If reports are correct, this new bill contemplates a massive tax increase. In these tough economic times, I do not believe Virginia’s middle class families can afford massive tax increases, and I cannot support legislation that would ask the taxpayers to shoulder an even heavier burden than they are already carrying, especially when the government proposes to do so little belt tightening in other areas of the budget.”

 Cuccinelli was not alone. The compromise bill passed Feb. 23 without the support of conservative Republicans in the legislature. And some of them, including GOP lieutenant governor candidate, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William, continued to express opposition Tuesday.

 On Friday, Cuccinelli, in his capacity as Virginia Attorney General, also issued a legal opinion that questioned the constitutionality of the regional tax components embedded in the bill to generate more funds for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office said McDonnell’s amendments had satisfied its concerns.

 McDonnell, the ranking Republican officeholder in Virginia who has endorsed Cuccinelli’s candidacy, thanked Cuccinelli in a press release for his assistance in addressing “the legal questions raised.”

 But Democrats, with an archive of Cuccinelli’s previous statements on transportation, provided a different spin, saying the attorney general tried to kill the bill before he took credit for helping to save it.

 “His clumsy attempts to rewrite history won’t change that,” said Democratic Party spokesman Brian Coy.