During the Virginia Democratic primary for Governor, Creigh Deeds’ campaign didn’t take off until he secured the endorsement of the Washington Post, which is read in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Today he received the endorsement in the general election, which could inspire the same kind of resurgence to his campaign, which is currently behind Republican Bob McDonnell’s.
Rather than basing the endorsement on allegations about McDonnell’s college thesis or relative campaigning styles, the WaPo editorial board, not necessarily known for their rigor, justifies their selection on the basis of Deeds’ transportation policy. It’s an interesting and often-neglected argument for revenue to build and preserve the commons, one that Deeds really hasn’t even made himself.
But the central challenge facing Virginia and its next governor is the deficit in transportation funding projected at $100 billion over the next two decades — and only Mr. Deeds offers hope for a solution. Following a road map used successfully in 1986, he would appoint a bipartisan commission to forge a consensus on transportation funding, with the full expectation that new taxes would be part of the mix. Mr. McDonnell, by contrast, proposes to pay for road improvements mainly by cannibalizing essential state services such as education, health and public safety — a political non-starter. And rather than leveling with Virginians about the cost of his approach, as Mr. Deeds has done, Mr. McDonnell lacks the political spine to say what programs he would attempt to gut, or even reshape, in order to deal with transportation needs.
Mr. Deeds has run an enormous and possibly fatal political risk by saying bluntly that he would support legislation to raise new taxes dedicated to transportation. It is a risk that neither Mr. Kaine nor Mr. Warner felt they could take. But given that the state has raised no significant new cash for roads, rails and bridges in 23 years, Mr. Deeds’s position is nothing more than common sense. It is fantasy to think that the transportation funding problem, a generation in the making, will be addressed without a tax increase. A recent manifesto from 17 major business groups in Northern Virginia, calling for new taxes dedicated to transportation, attests to that reality.
Yet Mr. McDonnell, champion of a revenue-starved status quo, remains in denial. He professes to feel the pain of Virginians struggling with financial hard times. In fact his transportation policy, a blueprint for stagnation and continuing deterioration, would subvert the state’s prospects for economic recovery and long-term growth. And it would only deepen the misery of Northern Virginia commuters who already pay a terrible price — economic, personal and psychological — because of the state’s long neglect of its roads.
Essentially, the Post’s editorial boils down to the argument that one party believes America is worth paying for, and one party does not. It’s sadly unusual to see that expressed in our political campaigns these days.