David Cox | The sad state we’re in

On Tuesday Virginians go to the polls for statewide and delegate races, never having heard what a serious mess we’re in.

Admittedly, I didn’t realize how bad things are until attending a conference for local officials last week. The data are grim. Though the information has been out for a long time, certainly for someone running for, say, governor, this clear and present crisis has gotten little or no mention in the present campaign, especially from those running on the level where it most matters–the statewide offices.

What’s the problem? Virginia will probably face another shortfall of perhaps $1.3 billion next year. This is in addition to the billion-or-so that has already been cut from the current budget.

Those cuts were painful enough, like postponing road work, trimming staffs, closing rest stops, and shutting the Natural Bridge Learning Center. But those were the veritable low-hanging fruit. Future cuts are likely to be excruciating: slashing school budgets, lowering basic assistance to those in genuine need, reducing police protection: nothing can be exempt from the knife.

Since localities will find reduced state funding, and must maintain services at a certain level for legal or moral reasons, don’t be surprised if local taxes increase. I hope not. But I predict that what the state funds will decrease, but what the state requires will not. And that leaves localities no choice, by law.

Alas, you haven’t heard TV ads from candidates talking about these probabilities. No surprise there. These are not fun facts. They’re not politically popular. It’s easier to talk about who cut taxes more–not the effect of those tax cuts (a net of about $1.8 billion/year decrease, which, you notice, is a half-billion more than next year’s expected shortfall). As a result, the campaign has not educated the citizenry about the hard realities any governor will face, doing thereby a disservice to everyone involved including the next governor.

Who, then, should it be? I’m looking for those best suited to meet this present crisis. I hope for leaders who are hard-headed, practical, and grounded in real-life experience, inspired by ideals but not ruled by ideology. Who best meets these criteria? On that basis, it’s quite clear.

Neither gubernatorial candidate has addressed the financial mess. The closest they’ve come is the transportation snarl. Our local son Creigh Deeds has been vague on what he would do, but at least he leaves room to maneuver. His opponent, Bob McDonnell, has been precise; but therein lies the problem. He proposes borrowing, but the state’s credit card is so close to being maxed out that taking on more debt is something lenders may not allow without sky-high interest rates. Selling ABC stores is a myth, both because many stores are franchises and we lose the income that otherwise goes to rehab services. And so forth. Vagueness is better than fiscal wrongheadedness. Deeds for Governor.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling wants another term, having accomplished zilch in his first term: Can you identify anything he’s done? Jody Wagner, by contrast, brings top-notch financial savvy to the office at precisely the moment we need all the savvy we can get. I heard her speak before she entered the race: She’s awesome, and could genuinely help whomever’s smart enough to listen to her. Wagner for LG.

Steve Shannon is running to become the state’s top prosecutor. Problem is, the Attorney General is more the senior partner of a major law firm, not Commonwealth’s Attorney. But Ken Cuccinelli seems to be running on the basis that he’s a Republican. Better to have an attorney in the job than a partisan. Shannon for AG.

Amherst’s own Jeff Price ran a spirited campaign for the House of Delegates seat, offering ideas and alternatives to an increasingly vague Rockbridgian incumbent Ben Cline, who’s chief message this year seems to be that he’s Ben. Jeff is a local businessman who sensibly links our future to small businesses (something the President said the other day, pointing to Google and Microsoft that originated in garages). He knows how to assess balance sheets and knows what it’s like to have to lay off people in this recession. His pragmatic experience, quite different from Ben’s, is precisely what we need in Richmond, now more than ever. Price for Delegate.

Readers of this column won’t be too amazed at my preferences. Still, notice my logic behind them. For, regardless of who wins, we face tough times. Governing will not be fun. Making the hard calls might guarantee a loss in the next election. But making those calls rightly will assure our future. Here’s hoping.

 

– Column by David Cox