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David Cox | Plaudits and Pans

The good news: Virginia’s legislature ended its session on time, for a change. The bad news: We’re still not sure what it did.

I don’t mean that as criticism. Since the General Assembly must wade through a couple thousand bills, it’s no surprise we’re not sure what actually got passed, much less what the ramifications of those bills may be. I’m not sure the legislators know either. Plus, the Governor has his chance to weigh in with approvals, vetoes, and amendments, so the story isn’t done yet.

Plus, I don’t think anyone, in Richmond or Washington much less Rockbridge County, understands what a federally-“stimulated” budget might look like.

Still, some signs are emerging, some good, some not, and some signs are question-marks.

On unfunded mandates, we have one example of each, so far.

Out of the laudable attempt to help voting procedures came the idea to require all local registrars of voters to be full time employees…whether there’s enough work to justify the time or not. In Lexington, our registrar Mrs. Rendleman does a marvelous job even though she’s part-time. Well, the city would have been required to make her a full-time employee and, while the state would have picked up the tab for extra hours, the city would pay the extra benefits. Fortunately, a “one-size-fits-all” mentality was scotched—at least this time, on this issue. Good.

Out of the admirable attempt to support veterans came a constitutional amendment to require all localities to exempt those whom the Veterans’ Administration certifies to be 100% disabled in combat service from local property tax. And there’s the rub: a noble idea that someone else pays for. Bad. And maybe not fair (what of those 95% disabled? What of war widows/widowers? What of police/firefighters disabled in the line of duty?). It got unanimous approval even from those who faithfully protest unfunded mandates. More bad. Maybe they’ll reconsider before the amendment gets the required second reading next year, and more appropriate ways are found to assist those who deserve it.

Out of the commendable motive of cleaning up the Chesapeake and the environment came the requirement that localities upgrade their wastewater treatment plants. For Lexington/Rockbridge, that carries a $15-million price tag. The state promised—promised—to pay half. It even set aside nearly $150 million to meet the pledge. The House of Deputies, however, reassigned those funds to balance the budget, thinking that the pledge would be met from other funds (stimulus? thin air?). We shall see. The governor wants those funds back. This issue, then, gets a question-mark for now. But the consequences of our area not getting funds that were promised—promised—are potentially huge for our utility bills.

One clear plaudit: Banning texting while driving. But of course. Yet why must society so often have to mandate common sense?

And an outright pan: The House subcommittee’s sinking a plan for bipartisan redistricting of legislative districts. Creigh Deeds’ proposal passed the Senate overwhelmingly; but by a 4-2 vote on partisan lines, the notion of drawing legislative districts by geography and proximity rather than by party politics once again lost. Why can’t we act on common sense?

As more results emerge, more picks-and-pans will follow. I promise.


Column by David Cox