RICHMOND, Va. — Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli spoke in general terms about higher education reform proposals before an audience of business and college leaders Tuesday but also took passing slaps at each other.

The forum, sponsored by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, came as a new statewide poll showed that the two major party candidates in the nation’s only competitive gubernatorial race are running about even 48 days before election day.

McAuliffe said making Virginia higher education — particularly community colleges — workforce incubators for high-tech business would be impossible under Cuccinelli’s tax reform platform that costs the state $1.4 billion annually in revenue and by rejecting Medicaid expansion.

“It doesn’t take a (science, engineering or math) degree to know that we won’t be able to afford a new investment in higher education in Virginia if a $1.4 billion-per-year tax cut proposed by my opponent is passed,” McAuliffe said. “Why would we try a radical new tax plan when we know our taxes are already among the lowest.”

Medicaid expansion, now contingent in Virginia on a panel’s determination that several cost-cutting and efficiency benchmarks have been met, is a clear difference between the two. McAuliffe is determined to expedite expansion of the federal-state health care partnership to about 400,000 Virginians just above the federal poverty level. Cuccinelli is just as determined to stymie it.

Refusing expansion of the program that helps pay for health care for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and for low-income families with children would only send federal taxes paid by Virginians off to other states that accept Medicaid expansion, McAuliffe said. Under the new health care reform law, the federal government pays the full cost of expansion for the first three years.

McAuliffe said Medicaid expansion would also boost employment, creating 33,000 new jobs in nursing and other health-related fields.

“At Virginia’s higher education institutions, it will mean more demand for cutting-edge health care research, and because it will result in general fund savings, we will have the ability to invest in some of the priorities … like financial aid,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli defended his proposal to cut personal and corporate income taxes and said the chief threat to business growth is regulatory burdens prescribed by federal law, specifically the health reforms he calls Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion it entails. He reminded the crowd that he was the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit contesting what he called a federal overreach on constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court last year rejected those challenges.

“I believe that the most suffocating aspect of our economy right now is the massive regulatory burden that’s rolling down from Washington,” he said. “If we could just get that out of the way, Virginia’s economy — and much of America — would blossom.”

He blamed a health reform mandate that requires certain employers to provide health benefits for people who work more than 30 hours a week for the decision by businesses and Virginia’s community colleges to cut the hours of some adjunct faculty to no more than 27 credit hours per year.

“Obviously, I’ve fought it (health reforms) on a constitutional basis, but it’s creating all sorts of dislocation across our economy,” he said. “In state government alone, we’ve pushed over 17,000 employees down below 30 hours, and I’m counting all the universities and community colleges.”

Cuccinelli said his proposals for higher education include recruiting more women into science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — curricula and tying up to 10 percent of state general fund support for colleges and universities to performance benchmarks such as the number of STEM degrees conferred, in-state enrollment growth, managerial efficiency and graduation rates.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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