Corey Stewart, candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor, held a press conference in opponent Sen Frank Wagner’s district today to announce a “No New Tolls” transportation revenue shift, calling for billons in spending cuts and shifting those savings to transportation.
“I fought in 2013 against the tax increase in Virginia, the biggest tax increase ever in the Commonwealth’s history,” said Stewart.
He laid the blame for that plan at the feet of former Governor Bob McDonnell and others who now support his opponent, Ed Gillespie.
He avoided any mention of his other opponent, Sen. Frank Wagner, which seemed odd since he went to the trouble of holding the press conference in Wagner’s Virginia Beach district and Wagner actually voted for the 2013 bill.
Stewart says even more taxes for transportation are coming in the form of more tolls, which he calls “absolutely heinous.”
“We need a Third Crossing here in Hampton Roads, but that project is really a state project,” said Stewart. “It should not be borne upon the citizens of Hampton Roads to pay for a project that is really meant for the Port of Virginia, which is owned by the entire state…as Governor, I am going to make sure that that does not happen.”
But when I questioned him on if he would move to repeal the taxes in the 2013 transportation plan that he opposed, he wouldn’t go that far.
“I think the very first thing we need to do is “no new tolls” and then we can get on to other things.”
Stewart focused on finding efficiencies in government to prevent tolls rather than repealing the 2013 transportation taxes.
Stewart’s plan cuts recurring costs in government by $2.2 billion in Year One, a 3.4% spending cut in overall state spending according to Stewart. Year Two cuts another $2.2 billion. All of those cuts would be diverted to transportation spending, “primarily in the Hampton Roads area,” said Stewart. This plan, Stewart says, would provide additional funding to road projects without the need for any more tolls.
Stewart’s spending cuts were undefined after several questions from the media, as well as how this would balance with his previous proposal to eliminate the state income tax entirely, saying it would “ratchet it down over time”. Stewart simply asserted that he did this on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and he would do this as Governor.
Despite the lack of specifics on where the $4.4 billion in cost-shifting would come from, Stewart seemed to me to be remarkably restrained in his rhetoric and, except for his swipe at Gillespie and McDonnell, was otherwise quite reserved.
I asked for comments from the Gillespie and Wagner camps to no avail, but re-prioritizing spending in budgets is not an uncommon campaign theme. Neither is promising undefined spending cuts.
Sen. Wagner has been running ads on Facebook attacking tolls, and his work to remove tolls from Rt 44 (now I-264) in Virginia Beach is legendary. Tolls aren’t a bad boogeyman to attack.
Stewart’s lack of details on what in the budget would be cut to send billions to Hampton Roads highways is a serious flaw, as is the lack of details on how he would eliminate the income tax at the same time.
But it’s nice to see candidates talking about issues like this that actually matter.