The Republican frontrunner in Virginia’s gubernatorial election went on the attack Friday while attending an economic development conference in downtown Charlottesville.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democratic businessman Terry McAuliffe were the special guests at the 2013 Virginia Economic Developers Association Spring Conference, where the candidates used their time to emphasize their economic goals for the commonwealth and their commitment to the state’s business community.
Outside the conference, Cuccinelli blasted McAuliffe for turning his back on that community back in 2009 after the Virginia businessman chose to locate an automotive plant in Mississippi rather than establish operations in Virginia.
McAuliffe purchased GreenTech Automotive, an electric-car company, from China more than three years ago and reportedly decided to move the company’s 1,500 jobs to Mississippi after the Virginia Economic Development Partnership refused to bid on GreenTech’s proposed Virginia plant.
"We had sites, we had meetings and they chose that they weren’t going to bid on it," McAuliffe said at a news conference in 2012. "I have to go where obviously they’re going to put incentives.”
According to an Associated Press review of state records, though, McAuliffe never provided state officials with enough details to obtain the economic development incentives.
More than 600 pages of correspondences show the state was dubious of the project from the start, but also reveal the company exacerbated VEDP’s misgivings by failing to satisfy questions about its financing and viability from senior officials under two governors: Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican Bob McDonnell.
Outside the conference, Cuccinelli affirmed his own loyalty to the state’s business community in stark contrast to McAuliffe’s alleged betrayal.
“This community has already seen [McAuliffe] play the blame game when he wouldn’t bring his job-creating opportunity to Virginia. I’m not going to do that,” Cuccinelli said. “I’m going to have a partnership with these folks.”
Although he did not discuss the 2009 affair during his brief appearance in Charlottesville, outside the conference, McAuliffe maintained that he had done everything he could to locate the plant in the commonwealth, but the state’s economic development partners just didn’t bite.
“We tried it, it didn’t work out,” McAuliffe said.
The crux of his speech Friday, according to McAuliffe, was Virginia’s economic future, not a business deal from 2009.
“What we talked about today is what we need to do and what every business leader in Virginia wants to do,” McAuliffe said. “The voters want their governor to focus on what the governor is going to do for [them].”
McAuliffe said his opponent has spent too much time focusing on divisive social issues that distract voters and deter Virginia’s economic growth.
“I am focused on job creation and economic development and he is concerned with these divisive social issues,” McAuliffe said. “Every minute we focus on divisive social issues is a minute we lose for economic development.”
That development, McAuliffe explained, would rely on a business-friendly environment, a streamlined government and a stable transportation infrastructure -- something the state currently lacks.
“[Transportation] is key for us,” McAuliffe said. “Virginia is rated one of the best states to do business, but one of the things that continually pulls us back is transportation.”
Transportation, McAuliffe says, brings employers to the state and keeps employees in the state.
McAuliffe highlighted his work with state legislators to push for the most recent transportation bill that looks to overhaul the current transportation budget, raising $5.9 billion for Virginia’s roads by raising the state’s sales tax over the course of the next five years.
Cuccinelli, who focused on tax reform at Friday’s conference, fought the transportation bill tooth and nail when it was first considered in the General Assembly.
Speaking Friday, Cuccinelli said any tax reform he would consider as governor would hinge on the transportation bill’s status in the next few weeks.
“Taxes are in flux because of the transportation bill,” Cuccinelli said, “but we’ll have more to say about that as the race goes on and we’ll be pretty darned detailed about that.”
McDonnell sent the bill back to the General Assembly on Monday after Cuccinelli raised concerns that the proposal unconstitutionally imposed special taxes on the state’s two most congested regions — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
McDonnell returned the bill to the General Assembly with amendments Monday night. Legislators will finalize the governor’s amendments next week.
Both candidates on Friday emphasized the importance of a bipartisan economic policy.
“I don’t know that you can really label an economic development approach,” Cuccinelli said.
“There’s no such thing as a Democratic job or a Republican job,” McAuliffe agreed.
Though Friday’s speeches were closed to the general public, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are slated to speak at a public VEDA meeting in October in Newport News.