July 17, 2017 News

ICYMI: The Virginian-Pilot: Ed Gillespie getting heat from both parties for criticizing transportation deal


by Kevin Donohoe

KEY POINT: "Democrats and Republicans alike have chastised Gillespie for his position."

The Virginian-Pilot: Ed Gillespie getting heat from both parties for criticizing transportation deal

Jordan Pascale // July 15, 2017

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has pulled out a new attack against his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, saying he helped pass “the largest tax increase in Virginia history.”

That includes the 2013 legislation that raised a regional gas tax and sales tax and increased the statewide sales tax from 4 to 4.3 percent and sales tax on vehicles from 3 to 4.15 percent.

But the $613 million collected for the region has helped pay for an expanded Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, I-64/264 Interchange, I-64 on the Peninsula, a new High-Rise Bridge and other needed projects.

The bipartisan 2013 deal, passed with Republicans at the helm and signed by then-Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, was generally praised by Hampton Roads constituents.

While no one likes a tax increase, the region’s drivers felt the daily pain of congestion and were well aware of the need for an upgraded interstate system.

Democrats and Republicans alike have chastised Gillespie for his position.

The Virginia Democratic Party held a news conference earlier this week in the shadow of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which is scheduled for a major expansion by 2024, thanks to the 2013 legislation.

“Maybe that’s the only negative thing they could say about Ralph?” said Del. Daun Sessoms Hester of Norfolk. “All of us did a give-and-take for this bipartisan bill.

“If we didn’t do something, there would’ve been big consequences for Hampton Roads and the state.”

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, a Republican, called Gillespie’s stance perplexing.

“How do you build a new economy if you can’t go anywhere?” Layne said Wednesday. “This is the type of partisan political ideology that got us into this transportation mess to begin with.”

Gillespie’s camp hasn’t backpedaled.

Communications director Dave Abrams said Gillespie has friends who voted for the transportation package and friends who voted against it.

“But his friends who voted for it don’t have the same record of support for other tax hikes Ralph Northam does and they support Ed’s across the board income tax cut policy that Lt. Gov. Northam opposes,” Abrams said in an emailed statement. “Ed won’t repeal the transportation bill, but he knows it’s time to provide hard-working Virginians tax relief and spur the creation of 53,000 private sector jobs in Virginia.”

Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) says he’s since talked to Gillespie and thinks the candidate will reverse course.

“I called him and told him that I fought for it and (other Republicans) fought for it and I don’t think that Ed understood it,” Knight said. “He said, ‘if ya’ll supported it, I support it.’”

The Pilot couldn’t reach Gillespie’s campaign to confirm the conversation.

Knight said he was a proponent of the bill because even though it raised taxes, the return on investment was “tremendous.”

Gillespie has made a small income tax cut and no new taxes a cornerstone of his campaign.

“The challenge for Virginia’s next governor will be to improve our transportation and infrastructure systems without raising taxes,” Gillespie’s website states.

The site goes on to list a series of moves that are seemingly already in practice:

“We need to take meaningful steps to further ensure that every transportation dollar is spent wisely. Virginia must direct its resources toward projects that have the best chance to reduce congestion, improve safety and promote economic opportunities.”

That’s literally what HB 2313 and the Smart Scale process does today.

He also encourages responsible public-private partnerships, which are already being done. And legislation reformed the process for the better in 2016.

We asked for a more detailed vision for transportation funding in the Commonwealth but did not get a reply.

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