RICHMOND – Ask Virginia House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, what to expect from the state’s conservative leaders, and he’ll say this: “Not only a slew of misplaced priorities, but a classic bait and switch.”
Conservatives tricked Virginia taxpayers by falsely advertising their priorities as jobs and the economy, then using their Republican majority to promote social legislation, said Toscano, a native of New York who practices family and real estate law.
Anti-abortion and gun-control issues are examples, the Democrats say.
Republican leaders Monday refuted the bait and switch theory.
“The folks who disagree with us on some of the more hot-button social issues would love to make it seem as though we are focused on those issues, when in fact, we are not,” said delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.
Gilbert said that despite the GOP push to require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, and whittling away state gun laws effected to decrease violent crime, Republicans remain focused on jobs and government reform.
Calling the socially conservative agenda bait and switch is an “unfortunate characterization,” Gilbert said.
Toscano pointed to the battle over education, which recently caught the attention of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at PolitiFact Virginia. PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based newspaper.
“You’ll hear on the floor, proponents of the governor’s budget talk about all the money, (the) greater amount of money we’re putting into education — that’s the bait,” said Toscano. “But the switch is” that local taxpayers are left holding the bill.
Toscano estimated the state has cut per-pupil spending by more than $547 since 2009, leaving fewer teachers responsible for more of Virginia’s public school students.
Republicans frame the education agenda as the largest-ever investment in Virginia public schools, and PolitiFact says they are correct.
Gov. Bob McDonnell asked the General Assembly to spend $13.1 billion on public education during the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1. The budget that ends June 30 allots $12.6 billion to schools — meaning McDonnell is asking for a $500 million increase.
But most of that money would be spent to revive the state’s broken pension system, not in the classroom, Democrats say.
“Overall in this, his first budget, the governor is cutting pre-K and K-through-12 education by hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, the Democratic lawmaker who delivered the response to McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth address Jan. 11.
“Governor McDonnell says he is prioritizing spending that will drive economic growth, but he proposes cutting $81.6 million from pre-kindergarten, despite all of the evidence that high-quality pre-K actually saves taxpayers money and is among the best long-term investments in economic growth,” said Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria.
Englin, an Air Force veteran, has partnered with Conservative Caucus co-chairman Ben Cline, R-Richmond, this session, to focus on transparency in Virginia’s corporate tax credit system.
McDonnell “says he is drawing a hard line against tax increases, but then he proposes cutting $65 million from money Northern Virginia needs to be competitive in hiring school staff; that is a $65 million real estate tax increase on our community,” Englin said.