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Cuccinelli says McAuliffe is over-promising, but neither man has a coherent vision for state finances.
Friday, October 11, 2013
It is not often that we pause to say a little prayer of gratitude for the existence of the General Assembly.
But as the two major party candidates for governor pick apart each other’s tax and spending plans, it’s comforting to remember that lawmakers have the final say on the commonwealth’s finances, and they have historically embraced a literal interpretation of the state constitution’s requirement that the budget be balanced.
The “you’re more irresponsible than I am” debate was touched off this week by Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who donned a green visor and tallied up the cost for all of his opponent’s campaign promises thus far. Cuccinelli calculates that Democrat Terry McAuliffe would have to spend $14 billion over four years to make good on all of his commitments, costing the average family of four $1,700 in extra taxes.
McAuliffe hasn’t conducted a dollars-and-cents analysis of his proposals as he has sashayed around the state pledging more funding for community and four-year colleges, pre-kindergarten programs, workforce development, tourism, university research and mental health care. He says he will adapt his plans based on available dollars.
Cuccinelli makes a fair point about the perils of over-promising, but he should have kept the visor on long enough to review his own campaign commitments, particularly his plan to cut $1.4 billion annually in corporate and personal income taxes. He says he’ll offset those revenue losses by eliminating tax loopholes and exemptions, but he’s refused to say which industries and special interests he’d gig.
At the center of the spending debate is a decision on whether Virginia should expand eligibility for Medicaid to add up to 400,000 uninsured individuals. McAuliffe favors the expansion, which would allow the state to collect more than $20 billion over the next decade. The federal money would be earmarked to pay for medical services to the newly insured, but it would have broader budget implications.
The precise impact depends on how one calculates other variables. There would be concrete savings if federal Medicaid dollars could be used to cover mental health services and prison inmates, freeing up state tax revenues for other purposes. McAuliffe also includes squishier assumptions about new taxes generated by economic growth from a booming health care sector, and he anticipates savings from lower insurance costs for state workers.
Cuccinelli says McAuliffe’s numbers are distorted by rose-colored optimism, but the Republican insists that the state opt out of the Medicaid expansion without acknowledging the growing financial burden on the state and its hospitals for charitable care dispensed in emergency rooms, where services are the least efficient and most costly.
Whether they’re wearing green visors or rose-colored glasses, both men lack a coherent vision for how they would balance budget priorities in the four years allotted to the next governor.
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