RICHMOND - A measure that would finally address the state's crumbling, crowded roads but also raise taxes and fees has already divided the two -- and possibly three -- candidates for governor.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli denounced the package Thursday as an "enormous tax increase" that will hurt Virginia families, once again pitting himself against Gov. Bob McDonnell, a fellow Republican who hopes to make that transportation solution his crowning legislative achievement.
"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 said.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Cuccinelli's likely opponent, embraced the plan and blasted the conservative attorney general for siding against McDonnell and the bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked out the compromise.
"Cuccinelli's work to undermine this mainstream proposal reflects his unique unwillingness to compromise under any circumstances," said McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin. "Once again, Ken Cuccinelli has demonstrated that his ideological agenda is outside even the Republican mainstream."
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who may enter the race as an independent, also chastised Cuccinelli, saying his opposition could prevent the General Assembly from finally solving the state's transportation problems.
"His opposition to this historic transportation agreement just shows how out of touch he is with the people of Virginia," Bolling said. "It is not the least bit helpful to have him coming in at the last minute criticizing this proposal. That's not what leadership is about."
The compromise will be up for a final vote in the General Assembly, scheduled to adjourn Saturday. It would eliminate the 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax and replace it with a 3.5 percent tax on wholesale gasoline sales. It would also raise the state sales by 1 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and 0.3 percent everywhere else.
The deal includes a hike in the titling tax on vehicles and forces owners of hybrid cars to pay a $100 annual fee.
Cuccinelli is hardly the only Republican running for statewide office that is against the plan. Most of the seven GOP candidates running for lieutenant governor derided the bill as a tax hike, as did the two Republican candidates in the attorney general race, Del. Rob Bell and Sen. Mark Obenshain.