The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee came to Arlington Tuesday to praise the work of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat hoping to succeed McDonnell, said he spent hours on the phone calling members of both parties urging them to support a transportation compromise, which ultimately passed this weekend in the hours before the 2013 General Assembly session ended.
"When you work on these major projects, it's not about a partisan agenda," McAuliffe told about a half-dozen reporters at a news conference on the 15th floor of the Sheraton Pentagon City.
"This was a big deal. Was this a legacy item for Governor McDonnell? You bet it was."
The event was designed to paint Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — McAuliffe's likely rival for the Governor's Office — as an "extremist," in part because of his refusal to support the transportation compromise. Responding to questions about a recent Politico article about two prominent Northern Virginia business leaders criticizing Cuccinelli, McAuliffe said the attorney general had a divisive social and ideological agenda that was hurting business recruitment.
McAuliffe called it a "sad commentary" that the state Republican Party had transformed so as to exclude people like Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Bolling, a Republican considering an independent bid for governor, also supported the transportation compromise. McAuliffe said whatever Bolling decides to do, the two would continue talking.
Meanwhile, despite the rain, work continued outside on the Washington Boulevard bridge replacement project over Columbia Pike. The bridge was built in 1944 by the War Department to facilitate access to the Pentagon, and its replacement will allow for wider lanes on the Pike to accomodate an eventual streetcar, McAuliffe said.
More than 1,700 bridges in Virginia are deemed structurally deficient, he said. The news conference originally was slated to be held outside, closer to the construction.
"We finally have some money to do what needs to be done to keep our citizens safe," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe was flanked by Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, Democratic Sen. Janet Howell of Reston and Democratic Del. Alfonso Lopez of Arlington. Lopez said people in his district who work at the White House had a 35-minute commute despite living only four miles away.
People in Northern Virginia spend an average 70 hours a year stuck in traffic, accounting for nearly $1 billion in lost productivity, McAuliffe said. The Hampton Roads area isn't much better — the average driver loses 43 hours a year, or about $700 million in productivity.
Eight Senate Republicans joined 17 Democrats on Saturday to pass the transportation compromise and send it to McDonnell's desk.
"We've all disagreed with Governor McDonnell on certain issues. But this was a time we came together," Howell said. "As with any compromise, none of us got all we wanted. There are parts of it that make me want to gag. But we put aside our differences to move Virginia forward."
She added: "Mainstream Republicans realized (Cuccinelli) was an impediment to progress."
The bill, if signed into law, would eliminate Virginia's 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax and impose a 3.5 percent wholesale tax in its place. It also would raise Virginia's state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent statewide, and then another 0.7 percent in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia specifically, to fund transportation projects in those areas.
It also would allow the state to charge a $100 annual license tax for electric and alternative fuel vehicles. That's the part that makes Howell want to gag.
Cuccinelli actively worked to defeat the compromise, Saslaw said, adding that a Cuccinelli administration "would keep us on late night television as a laughingstock."
"Terry should win this in a rout," Saslaw later told Patch.