Gov. Bob McDonnell has been vilified by fiscal conservatives objecting to tax increases contained in his $880 million transportation plan.
But Virginia voters — including Republicans — still think he's doing a good job.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday shows Mr. McDonnell with a 53 percent job-approval rating, nearly identical to the 54 percent rating he received on Jan. 9 — the day he announced his transportation plan at the outset of this year's General Assembly session.
"He obviously has had a good relationship with Virginia voters," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "They like him."
The transportation package calls for increasing the state's sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent while imposing 0.7 cent regional sales tax increases in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, areas of the state that meet certain criteria for population and transportation needs. The plan eliminates the state's 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax while imposing a new 3.5 percent tax on fuel at the wholesale level. It imposes a $64 fee on owners of hybrid vehicles, along with a handful of other tax and fee increases.
Mr. McDonnell supported the final product, tweaking the plan slightly Monday. Republicans had urged the governor to veto the measure, citing tax increases inserted during the legislative process.
The governor's role in the plan's passage was the likely reason he was not invited to speak at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. The blow to his conservative credentials was evident in the conference's presidential straw poll, where he placed outside the top 10, a year after speaking at CPAC and being mentioned as a possible running mate or Cabinet member for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
And it sparked a backlash that included political ads funded by the Virginia-based Patriot Super PAC that ran in Iowa and New Hampshire blasting Mr. McDonnell, who is widely believed to be considering a 2016 presidential run.
But the passage of the transportation plan made only a small dent in Mr. McDonnell's support among Republicans statewide, according to the poll. The survey showed Mr. McDonnell with 73 percent support among Republicans, slightly down from the 76 percent job-approval rating he earned from GOP voters in January.
Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said the poll numbers "speak to the limitation of the Grover Norquist movement among Republican voters," referring to an anti-tax pledge promoted by the conservative activist.
"An awful lot of voters are very results-oriented, and although there are controversial aspects of the transportation plan — particularly among conservative voters — overall it's likely to be a net positive for Gov. McDonnell to have succeeded where other governors have failed," Mr. Farnsworth said.
McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said Virginians want elected officials to solve problems, including the long-standing transportation problem.
"Gov. McDonnell has taken a strong leadership role in advocating for, and getting passed, historic and meaningful transportation funding reforms this year. Virginians from both sides of the aisle have stood by him for this leadership and problem-solving."
The poll, of 1,098 registered voters using interviewers to call land lines and cellphones, was conducted from March 20-25 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
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