Republican candidate for governor Ken Cuccinelli has alleged that Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe as a trade-off for his support to extend light rail to the Oceanfront, calling the purported bargain "a little quid pro quo there, maybe."
Cuccinelli made that claim Wednesday in Newport News when he affixed a four-year, $14 billion price tag to many of McAuliffe's spending priorities, saying the Democrat can't pay for them all without deep budget cuts or higher taxes.
He estimated $250 million of that comes from a state share for extending The Tide. Such mass transit costs are underwritten with local, state and federal money.
Since endorsing McAuliffe last month, Sessoms, a Republican estranged from the local GOP unit, has appeared in two television ads for the Democrat, whose campaign has made a big show of his defection. Sessoms said he wrestled with the choice before concluding McAuliffe would be more responsive as governor.
Cuccinelli, though, seems to suspect something else was afoot.
"Within days of the Virginia Beach mayor supporting Terry McAuliffe's campaign... McAuliffe suddenly said that he wants to expand light rail to Virginia Beach," he said Wednesday.
Cuccinelli's chronology is correct: One week separated Sessoms' Sept. 17 endorsement and McAuliffe's release of an urban investment plan calling for extending light rail to Norfolk Naval Station and the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
But it overlooks past McAuliffe statements of support, including one from a May speech in Norfolk when he said The Tide should go "all the way from the naval base to Virginia Beach."
Cuccinelli wants to see more cost estimates before taking a position on whether to lengthen the rail line beyond its Norfolk route.
Taking The Tide to the Oceanfront would cost more than $1 billion, according to a Hampton Roads Transit estimate.
Sessoms called Cuccinelli's claim "reckless" and untrue.
"For him to insinuate something like that is infuriating," the mayor said, adding that while he's thrilled McAuliffe favors extending light rail, "I've never asked him for a darn thing" to pledge funding for it.
Cuccinelli's accusation overshadowed the message of his Newport News event — that McAuliffe is counting on $500 million in annual savings from a Medicaid expansion that may not come so he can boost public education spending, lower college costs, give teachers raises and pay for other priorities.
Without deep cuts to other state programs, Cuccinelli said, affording all that would raise taxes by $1,700 on the average family of four.
"Make no mistake, McAuliffe will either hike taxes significantly, or he will fail to deliver his promises," said Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general.
Pilot writer Bill Sizemore contributed to this report.
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