- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2013

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell faces some difficult decisions when it comes time to sign bills passed during this year’s General Assembly, including whether to sign or amend a transportation bill that riled conservatives and could further alienate some members of his own party.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, has not said whether he will sign several marquee bills from the recently concluded session, including a two-year ban on drone aircraft and stronger voter ID laws in addition to the transportation package.

The governor could sign, veto or amend the proposals and send them back to the legislature, and analysts say that whatever options he chooses are bound to upset some party members.

“My sense is that, from his perspective, he’s going to be confronted with criticism no matter which direction he’s gone,” said longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth.

Representatives for the governor say he is still reviewing all three proposals and has yet to set a timeline for a decision.

Scrutiny over Mr. McDonnell’s standing within his own party heightened this year as he urged the assembly to pass transportation legislation, culminating with an $880 million package that was approved with help from moderate Republicans and includes tax increases.

Mr. McDonnell is likely to sign some form of a transportation plan, but he has the option of revising the bill through a line-item veto. Conservative Republicans, who are criticizing the governor for breaking a pledge not to raise taxes, have particularly pressed him to strike provisions that would allow additional local sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

“The bill started off as a measured approach but became bloated and they just kept adding and adding to it,” said Sen. Richard H. Black, a Loudoun Republican who said he would have opposed even a slight tax increase. “The grass-roots [Republicans] seem to be extremely angry about this. They’ve heard a lot of promises about not raising taxes.”

While conservatives are pushing for changes, political science professor Stephen J. Farnsworth said such a move might prove too risky as alterations could endanger the majority support needed for an amended plan to pass.

“The governor would be wise to bank his victories on the transportation bill,” said Mr. Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington. “When you talk about something as carefully calibrated as this bill was, the governor would be taking a huge risk to reopen the discussion.”

Conservatives also will be watching the governor to make sure he signs the most notable conservative legislation from this session — a bill that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls.

Republicans pushed the bill, which would strengthen the nonphoto-ID requirement passed last year, even as Mr. McDonnell has expressed concerns that stricter ID laws could disenfranchise voters and open the state to possible lawsuits.

The bill would be subject to review under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of Virginia’s history of discrimination at the polls. Four states have similar laws — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have approved photo ID laws that have not gone into effect because they have been challenged in court or they did not get clearance from the Justice Department.

Supporters of a photo requirement have argued that other IDs are too easy to exploit.

“Signing this bill is a no-brainer,” said Mr. Black, who sponsored the legislation. “Everybody is aware of the vulnerability. To tamper with it, I think, would be a disgrace.”

Even if the governor is skeptical of the proposal, analysts say he likely will go along rather than further damage his standing with conservatives who have made voter ID laws a major issue in recent years.

“I would be surprised if he struck it down,” Mr. Holsworth said. “If he went against this and didn’t go against the transportation tax, it would probably alienate a lot of people.”

Mr. McDonnell appears even less likely to strike down a bipartisan bill to ban domestic drones for two years, even though he has voiced support for the technology in the past.

The measure passed with overwhelming support in both chambers, which raises the likelihood that lawmakers could override a potential veto with a more than two-thirds vote in each chamber.

If the governor amends or vetoes any legislation, the assembly would reconvene April 3 to weigh his decisions.