Virginia Gov. McDonnell’s Voodoo Liquor-to-Roads Plan

I want leaders who won’t tell me there’s some voodoo trick to turn bourbon into asphalt.

By + More

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell was one of the first American politicians to ride the current wave of discontent into office. Like some of those jokers we’ll be judging on the ballot in November, he promised that there were easy solutions to difficult problems.

[Read more about the 2010 elections.]

McDonnell’s signature proposal was to raise half a billion dollars for direly needed transportation projects in Virginia without raising taxes. He would do so, he said, by selling off the state’s hard liquor business.

Well, this week he unveiled his plan. Guess what. It calls for raising taxes. On small businesses. In hard times.

[Read more about unemployment and the economy.]

The problem with selling the state liquor business is that it reliably brings Virginia about $324 million in revenue each year. Sure, McDonnell can reap a one-time windfall by auctioning off the pieces for $458 million, but how is he going to make up for the missing millions once he spends his windfall? Sell the University of Virginia? Rent out Mount Vernon for weddings?

McDonnell can recoup some money by collecting license fees from the 600 Walmarts and Safeways and the like and 400 smaller shops that will now become corner liquor stores. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But his plan necessarily calls for an increase in the liquor tax on wholesalers and qualifying restaurants and bars.

Excuse me, fees. “It’s not a tax increase, and people who say that are simply misrepresenting the facts,” the somewhat touchy governor said.

Even with the tax … er, fees, “the risks posed by Mr. McDonnell’s plan to the state’s finances, which could be considerable, may outweigh the prospective benefits for its transportation system, which look modest,” said the Washington Post, which studies such things. The $458 million “doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of maintaining Virginia’s roads for six months, let alone constructing new ones.”

I don’t much care if the state wants to tax me at the gas pump, or when I go out to dinner. What I want is a Metro system that won’t kill me, and good roads to drive on. And leaders who won’t tell me there’s some voodoo trick to turn bourbon into asphalt.

  • Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • Read more coverage of the political stories of the year.