Virginia House Speaker Gets Primary Challenger Over Tax Hikes And Corporate Welfare

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Virginia’s Republican speaker of the House is facing a primary challenge over his support for tax hikes and using tax dollars to benefit corporations.

Watchdog reported on Wednesday that Speaker Bill Howell would face a challenge from former Stafford County Supervisor Susan Stimpson, “who accuses GOP leaders of favoring corporate partnerships at taxpayer expense.”

In particular, Watchdog says Stimpson has slammed Howell’s support for public-private partnerships (P3’s) on transportation projects, which she claims, “have developed a pattern of negotiating most of the financial risk on Virginia taxpayers.”

“The new HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes are an example of this,” Stimpson said recently, explaining that, “If the tolls do not reach the agreed upon revenue levels, then the taxpayers must kick in tax dollars to offset that shortfall.” (RELATED: All Aboard California’s High-Speed Train to Nowhere)

She has also raised the un-built section of Route 460 that was supposed to link Suffolk and Petersburg, which critics have labeled a road to nowhere. “Virginia has spent $300 million without turning over one piece of dirt,” Stimpson told Watchdog, “and it is estimated that it could cost up to $900 million just to cancel it.”

Howell, however, contends that P3’s are “an integral part of Virginia’s efforts to build a 21st-century transportation network,” saying that, “When administered effectively, they reduce taxpayer risk and leverage the positives of the private sector to benefit transportation users.”

On the other hand, he also acknowledges that, “There are steps we can take to improve transparency and increase accountability in the P3 process.” (RELATED: Unions Oppose Plan to Privatize Atlanta Public Transportation)

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, also defended the practice, saying “P3s have enabled Virginia to build key infrastructure years sooner than would otherwise be the case due to federal and state governments failure to provide adequate funding.”

Stimpson, who previously competed in the 2013 primary for lieutenant governor, also asserted in a press release announcing her candidacy that, “Bill Howell has been the consistent force behind every major tax increase in Virginia in the last decade. Simply put, Bill Howell has lost his way and is the chief architect of a tax-and-spend agenda that rewards the politicians and punishes the middle class.”

After reviewing three major tax increase bills from 2004, 2007 and 2013, PolitiFact rated Stimpson’s claim as “mostly true,” noting that Howell sponsored the tax bills that were passed in 2007 and 2013, but registered opposition to the 2004 bill, even though he became “an unwitting force” behind its passage by allowing it to come to a vote. (RELATED: McAuliffe Sets Record for Business Incentive Deals)

“I was thrilled in 2009 when Republicans won all three statewide offices in Virginia,” Stimpson said in her press release. “But instead of leading as a conservative to transform government, Bill Howell squandered that opportunity by crafting the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history in 2013.”

“Conservative Republicans do not continually raise taxes and increase the size of government,” she added. “I look forward to highlighting my record of cutting taxes, cutting spending, and making government more efficient while prioritizing funds for roads, schools, and public safety with Speaker Howell’s tax hiking, big spending record.”

Incoming Virginia Republican Rep. Dave Brat emphasized crony capitalism in his upset primary defeat of federal House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this year.

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