[This article was originally published in the May 16th issue of HUMAN EVENTS newspaper.]
When the smarmy David Axelrod is going out of his way to attack you on national television, be of good cheer. That means that you’re an effective critic of the Obama administration. The Chicago knives come out only when the threat is real. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell can attest to that.
Recently he and Axelrod were guests on NBC’s low-rated “Meet the Press.” McDonnell was there to tout his state’s impressive economic numbers: two straight years of budget surpluses, unemployment hovering at 6%, increased government revenue and the expansion of businesses in the commonwealth.
With an economy that’s still limping along, you’d think that Axelrod would join McDonnell in heralding Virginia, which boasts the eighth-lowest unemployment rate among all the states. But that, you see, would require Obama’s attack dog to acknowledge, at least tacitly, that his boss’s expensive government programs have failed. Big-time. GOP Gov. McDonnell got Virginia back on track by shrinking his state’s influence on the people, the exact opposite of what’s been going on at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
So Axelrod is forced to spin Virginia’s economic about-face in a way that would impress any roller coaster enthusiast. Speaking to McDonnell on “Meet the Press,” he carped, “You balanced the budget with $1.7 billion in money from the Recovery Act, you balanced your budget by borrowing $3 billion against future receipts on transportation … you borrowed money from your pension plan that you’re gonna have to return.”
There you have it: In those few sentences went Axelrod’s attempt to show McDonnell and Obama are alike. A lot alike. Spending and borrowing work! Look at Virginia.
Except, not really.
“David was just flat wrong. I mean, he’s a guy from Chicago who’s lived his whole life inside the Beltway. He doesn’t understand Virginia government,” McDonnell told HUMAN EVENTS in an exclusive interview. “I think his handlers gave him some talking points.”
“The bottom line is we had a $6 billion deficit over the last two years, and largely through cutting spending we balanced the budget and had a surplus, and Washington doesn’t.”
“Governors are making great strides now, making the tough calls and balancing their budgets. That’s a foreign concept to David Axelrod and the people inside the Beltway who haven’t balanced the budget in years and years.”
As it turns out, one of Axelrod’s handlers really did give him bad information, or Axelrod knew that he was playing loose with the facts, both very possible scenarios. On allegedly raiding billions from the Virginia Retirement System, the borrowing was codified before McDonnell even took office. Moreover, the money “borrowed” wasn’t incorporated into his 2010 budget. Thus, McDonnell ran a budget surplus in his first year without borrowing any money from the pension fund, which, remember, he never authorized to begin with.
Regardless, McDonnell put additional funding into the budget to accelerate the payments back into the Virginia Retirement System. In fact, deferrals are expected to be paid off faster than originally planned, his office tells us.
So there is that.
On Axelrod’s accusation that McDonnell ransacked the transportation fund, well, I’ll let McDonnell explain that one. Take it away, Governor:
“That was for transportation [and] infrastructure, and not ongoing operations. And that’s the problem with Washington. They’re taking out the federal government credit card to fund operations. We use a very small amount of debt to fund capital infrastructure. And that’s what you do: You mortgage your house, but you don’t use the credit card. When you’re buying pencils, pens and paint for daily expenses, you’ve got to have the cash to pay for it. And that’s the fundamental difference.”
In a nutshell, issuing bonds to pay for roads is not uncommon. Moreover, this capital project was also approved before McDonnell took office, although he’s fast-tracked issuance for a portion of those bonds to take advantage of low interest rates.
David Axelrod knows full well that explaining such detail in the back-and-forth of television sound bites is nearly impossible, so it’s easy for him to launch drive-by attacks coated with half-truths and leave it for McDonnell to sort out. And that’s why we just took the time to undercut the Obama administration’s charges against McDonnell: The White House wants to divert attention from the free-market solutions that are clearly working in Virginia.
HUMAN EVENTS spent nearly 30 minutes with McDonnell at his office in Richmond. Elected in 2009, his two years thus far have been a model on a micro level of how to go about jump-starting an economy: Scale back government, adopt a friendly posture toward business, and then, most importantly, enjoy the undeniable results.
“We realize that government doesn’t create jobs, and the ones that they do are not really the ones you want,” he told us. “You want the private-sector ones, the innovative jobs that are going to grow the economy.” Besides keeping taxes, litigation and regulation low, McDonnell has cut down on bureaucratic hoops for small-business owners and has courted bigger businesses, including defense company Northrop Grumman and Microsoft, to expand their operations. Everything’s expanding, boasts McDonnell, everything “from tourism to wine to furniture manufacturing to packaging. It’s really across-the-board.”
The positive economic impact can be felt. Government revenues for the month of March increased by 12.4% over the prior year and, according to his office, that marks nearly 13 straight months in which state revenue collections topped last year’s sum.
In other words, revenue generated from sales taxes have jumped, which means that people are out making purchases again. “Consumer confidence is up,” notes McDonnell. “The other thing is income tax withholding, which means people are working.”
All good news.
He’s downsized government spending to 2006 levels.
More good news.
McDonnell has also gone after the size of his state government, from slashing funding for public broadcasting to eliminating entire boards and commissions. And he’s unapologetic about it.
“We shouldn’t be paying for [public broadcasting]. We’ve got literally hundreds and hundreds of options. The free market works well. The private sector is donating money to public broadcasting and public radio and TV, and they are free to do that. I just don’t think it’s a government function, particularly in these days of fiscal austerity when we need to find ways to make the government work better.” He told us that after he had just walloped off almost $425,000 in taxpayer funding from Virginia’s public broadcasting budget, a reduction of 25%.
He says it’s Congress’ turn to do the same.
And then there are the superfluous government positions that leech off of the taxpayer trough. Sayonara, folks! You’re going to have to get a real job now.
There are now 49 fewer boards and commissions in Virginia, payroll services and agency reports have been consolidated, and even the allegedly untouchable funding of K-12 education and health care services was reduced.
Rather than cause consternation among voters, Virginians are by and large welcoming McDonnell’s free-enterprise approach. The latest Washington Post poll shows him scoring a 62% job approval, which makes McDonnell the most popular politician his state.
“You have to make those tough cuts and endure political criticism, knowing that in the long run your state is going to be healthier,” he said.