First shots in LG race
“We must restore fiscal integrity.” Interesting choice of words from an elected official who if he’d had his way would have pushed Virginia to the brink of fiscal insolvency.
The words are Bill Bolling’s, in an interview published last week in The Midlothian Exchange. Bolling, running for re-election as lieutenant governor, was apparently talking about how he fears that the state’s continuing budget struggles could jeopardize its coveted AAA bond rating, which saves Virginia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually in the financing of capital projects.
Let’s rewind back a few years to 2004, when Mark Warner, in his first budget, was trying to get state legislators to agree to a half-cent increase in the state sales tax and a sharp increase in the tax on cigarette sales to account for the $6 billion-plus budget shortfall that he had inherited from Jim Gilmore two years earlier.
Bolling was among the Republican critics of the Warner plan, which not only preserved the AAA bond rating but also set Virginia on course to becoming universally hailed as the best state for business in the country.
Now Bolling is saying that “overly optimistic administrations” may lead to $5 billion shortfalls in the next two to three years. “I think we’re on a course to fiscal disaster—if we don’t restore it, we’re going to regret it for a long time to come,” Bolling told the Exchange. “We’ve got to get spending under control. We’ve got to eliminate the budget gimmicks that this administration has used over the last four years.”
The “budget gimmicks” line is one we’re sure to hear repeated in one form or another given Democratic Party nominee Jody Wagner’s background as state treasurer under Warner and Secretary of Finance under Gov. Tim Kaine. Republicans have been setting Wagner up to take the fall for the budget mess that Richmond has been in since it became clear a couple of years ago that she was thinking about running for lieutenant governor.
And so the attack from Bolling isn’t of itself newsworthy because the attack didn’t reveal anything substantive from the Bolling camp on where within the budget issue it thinks Wagner might be particularly vulnerable. What is news here is the hint at what we might get as the pat response from the Wagner side.
“Bill Bolling’s attacks on Tim Kaine and Jody Wagner’s fiscal stewardship would be laughable, if they weren’t so horribly misguided,” read a statement from Wagner campaign manager Elisabeth Pearson. “If there’s anyone in this race who knows what it takes to retain a triple-A bond rating, it’s Jody Wagner, who worked for years to restore the Commonwealth’s fiscal health after Jim Gilmore’s disastrous management, which Bill Bolling advocated every step of the way. With the bipartisan, commonsense fiscal policies of Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jody Wagner, Virginia has been named the ‘Best Managed State’ in the nation twice, and the ‘Best State for Business’ four times … .
“Unfortunately for Bill Bolling, he is apparently the only person in the Commonwealth who believes we’d be better off reverting to the fiscal policies of Jim Gilmore and George Bush, instead of moving Virginia forward with four more years of the Warner-Kaine legacy. We’re very much looking forward to a healthy debate over the next four months as to which direction is best for Virginia’s future,” Pearson said.
This comes across to me at first glance as being an effective counter – basically rendering what could be Bolling’s best argument to voters to vote against Wagner, that she missed calling the fiscal downturn and in the process threw the state into a budgeting tizzy, into its weakest, reminding voters that not only was Bolling not helpful during the downturn but that he also has done his best to be a roadblock to economic progress the past several years.
Interesting turn here. And it will be more interesting to see where this debate goes over the course of the next four months.
– Story by Chris Graham