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Governor-elect Bob McDonnell faces tough issues

Tuesday, with Governor-elect Bob McDonnell at the head of the ticket, Virginia Republicans scored an overwhelming victory in the 2009 statewide election. It represents a dramatic reversal of fortune. Republicans, who had been losing ground in every statewide election since 2001, turned the tide. Now, after eight years of Democratic administrations, it’s the Republicans who will be in charge in Richmond.

There will, of course, be inaugural balls, speeches, and welcomes for the governor and his administration. However, this isn’t exactly an easy time to take over the executive reins in Richmond. McDonnell’s predecessors, going back several terms, have enjoyed the luxury of a growing tax base and expanding revenues. Unfortunately, for Bob McDonnell, and indeed the rest of us as well, that’s not the kind of economy he is going to inherit. Though faring better than our neighbors, Virginia, like the rest of country, is recovering from a deep recession. Unemployment is high, and in some counties in Virginia, it’s in the double digits. It’s likely, that like Governor Kaine during the past few years, the new governor is going to have to deal with a revenue base that’s going to get smaller before things get better. That means there will be even deeper cuts in the state budget.

One of the reasons McDonnell won this election, was because, as one editorial put it, “…he had a plan for everything.” It was part of his recasting the Republican campaign in a more moderate light. Rather than being the party that was accused of saying “no” all the time, he wanted to offer options and ideas. Independents in particular were won over by his interest in serious policy matters.

Transportation is still one of the most serious issues facing Virginia. A strong transportation infrastructure is absolutely essential for growing the economy. Virginia has proved this over and over again. But in today’s political environment, that’s a lot easier said than done. For years the challenge has been how to do this without having to ask for more revenue. It’s reasonable to say that, given the climate in Richmond, there is no prospect for of any kind of new revenue source to support transportation. McDonnell said he would not raise taxes, and the Republicans in the legislature have many times refused pleas for more revenue. That avenue, in effect, is closed. This means the new governor is going to have to take his plan, now just a campaign document, and turn it into real proposals and legislation. Most importantly he is going to have to bring the General Assembly along as well.

The governor-elect has a number of ideas which need to be talked about. If any of them can address our transportation issues, whether it’s selling the state liquor stores to raise revenue, or floating bonds for long-term investment, then they need earnest consideration. If he can get by the discord and name calling that has characterized relations between the Assembly and the executive mansion for the past four years, then that will be a good start.

When it comes to education funding, the new governor is going to face some serious challenges. Like it or not, state support for education, which depending upon the locality, funds an average of approximately 40 percent of local education budgets (sometimes more, sometimes less), is likely in the best-case scenario not to increase, or more likely to have to be trimmed. This includes support for teacher salaries, equipment and special programs. They are all at risk. Some will try and cast this as a partisan issue. That would be a mistake. The recession and the budget crunch mean tough decisions will have to be made. It doesn’t matter what party you’re in. Priorities have to be set and responsible discussion needs to take place. The extent the new governor leads this process and keeps it away from the partisan divide will say a great deal about his administration.

McDonnell, by virtue of the way he ran his campaign, in spite of his deeply conservative roots, seems committed to trying to run a thoughtful and moderate administration. If he is serious about trying to get to work on the problems facing Virginia, then I for one am eager to wish him luck. I think he is going to need it.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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