Democrat Terry McAuliffe would not say how much his expansive education plans would cost at a Wednesday night Virginia gubernatorial debate, despite being pressed by the moderator, debate panelists, and reporters.
When asked about his plan’s costs, McAuliffe attempted to shift the discussion to the plan itself, or to tangential issues such as a proposed Medicaid expansion in the state.
"You've been running for governor for four years," said NBC political director Chuck Todd, the debate moderator. "Why can't you give us a price tag on what spending you want to expand? What's the price tag?"
"Well, I'll tell you what I'd love to spend it on," McAuliffe replied before delving into his education reform proposals.
The debate was the second of three between McAuliffe and his Republican opponent Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Observers expected questions about the price tag of McAuliffe’s plans on education and other issues to dog him during the debate. Given multiple chances to explain how he would pay for those plans, McAuliffe demurred.
"I think it's prudent budgeting first to determine how much money you have. Then when you have it, then you can apply it to your priorities," he explained.
"Would you ask somebody to buy a MyCar without telling them how much it costs?" a reporter asked, referring to the signature line of cars produced by GreenTech Automotive, during a press availability after the debate.
McAuliffe repeatedly brought up a proposed Medicaid expansion as a means to fund additional spending programs. Without knowing whether that expansion will take place, he said, he could not say how he would fund various proposals.
McAuliffe claimed that the Medicaid expansion would save the state $500 million, which he would use to pay for education programs and other policies. But even his supporters have balked at that position.
"Counting on this program as a revenue source to fund a broad economic agenda poses several problems," noted the Washington Post editorial board, which is expected to endorse McAuliffe, in an editorial last week.
"Expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do," the editorial said. "But it is not a sustainable or realistic way to finance new spending in other areas."
Cuccinelli’s campaign jumped on McAuliffe’s refusal to give specifics.
"How can anyone possibly think that Terry McAuliffe is ready to be Governor if he doesn’t have any idea what the current budget is and has no idea what his programs cost?" campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix said in a statement.