Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Thursday he supports placing limits on money and gifts that state officials and their families receive from political donors.
During a visit to Martinsville, the Republican candidate for governor said that if he is elected Nov. 5, he would lead an effort to set such limits.
No limits exist now, he said.
Earlier this week, Cuccinelli said he would not repay more than $18,000 in gifts he received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams because they are gifts that cannot be returned, such as a catered holiday dinner, private jet trips and vacation lodging, The Associated Press (AP) has reported.
On Thursday, he also said he does not think it would be appropriate to pay back the total value of the gifts.
“Over my time in public office, I’m on the low end of getting gifts,” he said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced that he and his family will return all gifts they received from Williams, as well as repay $125,000 in business and personal loans they got from him, according to the AP.
Investigations have revealed that neither Cuccinelli nor McDonnell violated state laws by accepting the gifts, Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli said he has been transparent in his finances, such as by releasing his tax records for the past eight years. He said he will keep doing so if elected governor.
Cuccinelli represented Fairfax County in the state Senate from 2002 to 2010, when he became attorney general. He was elected to the post in November 2009.
While in Martinsville, he visited a generator at the former city landfill that produces electricity from methane gas released by eroding garbage.
The visit was part of his “Growing Virginia Jobs & Opportunity Tour” through Southside, with stops in Danville as well as Martinsville. He was promoting his energy plan, which includes measures such as reducing regulations and taxes on energy resources and developing alternative and clean electricity options such as solar, wind and nuclear power, according to his campaign website.
He also favors continuing to use coal to produce electricity. Coal is the source of most power generated in the region. Officials have said changing from coal to cleaner sources of energy could raise consumers’ power bills.
Cuccinelli said his Democratic challenger, Terry McAuliffe, is fighting the continued use of coal as a power source.
“A war on coal in Virginia is a war on the poor ... and middle class,” he said while eating lunch at Rania’s uptown with about 35 local supporters.
The landfill generator has been running for more than a year, providing 2 to 3 percent of Martinsville’s total electricity demand. It is saving the city about $200,000 a year on its costs for power bought on the wholesale market and resold to city customers, according to city Assistant Public Works Director Jeff Joyce.
Cuccinelli said generating power from eroding trash is “a pretty darn good use of a resource that otherwise would be dormant. It’s just plain smart.”
During the luncheon, Cuccinelli discussed his positions on certain issues and why he thinks McAuliffe is not suited to be the next governor.
Cuccinelli indicated that McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who has not held elected office before, lacks knowledge about how state government works. For example, he said his challenger has stated “he has no idea how a bill becomes a law.”
Creating jobs, especially in Southside Virginia, is the state’s No. 1 task, Cuccinelli said.
“The best thing the government can do to expand our economy,” he said, “is to get out of the way” of free enterprise, such as by reducing taxes and restrictions on businesses.
At 6 percent, Virginia’s corporate income tax rate is one of the lowest in the nation. Still, Cuccinelli said he wants to lower the rate to 4 percent. He said that would make Virginia tie for the lowest rate in the nation.
Kansas now has a 4 percent flat corporate income tax rate. Kentucky and Louisiana also have rates as low as 4 percent, but their corporate tax rates are based on various tax brackets into which companies fit, according to a Federation of Tax Administrators website.
Virginia also must get rid of tax exemptions that help particular industries but not all, Cuccinelli said.
A man at the luncheon who did not give his name told Cuccinelli that the planned Interstate 73 through Henry County would be one of the biggest things that could happen to improve the local economy. He encouraged Cuccinelli to try to spur funding to get the construction started.
Cuccinelli agreed that I-73 would benefit the area, but he indicated it is unlikely that funding for it will be provided soon.
The current and previous governors “have soaked up so much debt capacity ... that the next governor doesn’t have a lot of room to work with” as far as further increasing the state’s debt, Cuccinelli said.
He predicted that regardless of who wins the election, the next governor will see the state’s AAA bond rating drop.
If he is elected, he said, “I know what I’m walking into ... a massive amount of debt we’ve taken on” that could hinder new transportation projects.
An option for helping fund a highway’s construction is making it a toll road. Cuccinelli said that while toll roads have been created elsewhere, he senses that concept would not please Southside residents.
On other issues, Cuccinelli said he favors less federal oversight of Virginia’s public schools as well as not increasing Medicaid funding.