Cuccinelli claims credit for road bill he nearly killed

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Ken Cuccinelli is the most notable critic of a transportation package that will raise taxes to bring nearly $6 billion in new revenue over the next five years. But that didn't keep him from taking some credit Tuesday for helping it through the legislative process.

After Gov. Bob McDonnell released his amendments to the bipartisan road funding bill, Cuccinelli noted that it was his legal objection that pressured McDonnell to make changes to the bill that will assure safer passage through the courts.

In a legal opinion released last week, Cuccinelli said the bill unconstitutionally raised the sales tax in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads higher than the rest of the state. McDonnell's most significant amendment addressed the problem by expanding the same taxing authority to the rest of the state as long as the region meets certain population thresholds.

Cuccinelli, who previously called the bill an "enormous tax hike" and at one point supported another plan dubbed the "conservative alternative," sent out a press release from his gubernatorial campaign highlighting his role in helping McDonnell with his signature legislative achievement.

"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," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "Moving forward, I remain committed to working to fix Virginia's transportation problems, which will create jobs and ease the congestion across the commonwealth."

McDonnell's office said they worked closely with the attorney general after the bill passed the General Assembly last month with bipartisan support, but he also noted the governor keeps his own counsel. That became clear later Tuesday when Cuccinelli said McDonnell's proposed changes to a new legislative panel that will oversee a possible Medicaid expansion did not satisfy constitutional concerns.

"We don't ask for his permission," McDonnell said on WTOP's "Ask the Governor." "We ask for his advice."

Cuccinelli is facing Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the governor race. McAuliffe, a strong backer of the transportation tax hike, praised McDonnell Tuesday and took a not-so-veiled swipe at his opponent.

"I applaud Gov. McDonnell for once again overcoming last minute roadblocks thrown up by those who prefer extreme gridlock," McAuliffe said. "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."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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