David Reynolds: Denial

Boy, I’m sure glad I live in Rockbridgeland . . . and not in Virginia. And that our three local governments can take the year off. After all, we were told that almost everything was accomplished in paradise during 2010. But that the Commonwealth has all sorts of problems, from textbooks to roads, from funding the Virginia Retirement System to finding a way to pay for its share of Medicaid.

If you dropped in from Mars to attend this year’s “State of the Community” breakfast put on by the local Chamber of Commerce this is the message you would beam back to another planet.

Sorry, we live on the planet Earth. Here facts mean more than words. At least they once did. And progress reports once included those areas where there was none.

Sure, we accomplished a few things on the local front. Nonetheless, we have a long road to travel if this area is to come anywhere close to meeting its full potential. Isn’t that what the civil rights industry keeps saying about the human race? So, why not say it about local accomplishments? To say otherwise, as three local spokespersons chose to do (two mayors and a county supervisor) is to practice denial.

Have you ever wondered why government seldom meets the expectations of the electorate? This year’s Chamber breakfast may have given us a clue. Our local leaders actually believe what they write and say! They actually believe that their good news press clippings pave the road to reelection. So that’s it! Now I get it.

But thank God, or any higher authority beyond government, that appeared not to be the case with those who sat in the audience. I looked around the room. I saw a bunch of skeptics.

That is my first piece of good news for the week. Skepticism is alive and well here. We have it in spades. We must all be from Missouri, the “Show me” state, rather than survivors from up North. We need to be shown progress – not just to be told about it. And don’t worry, fearless leaders, progress is like pornography. We can recognize it when we see it.

That’s the problem with the ruling class. They think they need to point out all their great accomplishments to those being ruled. Sorry again. It is not the job of government to sell. It is government’s job to inform.

A couple other tips for our local government sales staffs. One, when we have empty store fronts, let’s not always blame the economy. Two, broadband (fiber optics cable) is not an economic panacea. It is for residents more than businesses. Check out those places who have it.

Then there is the little matter of public education. We have good schools, but not good enough. Until we have better schools, forget about real economic development and better paying jobs. The valley will continue to be a tough sell. Ask Toyota.

Now to the Commonwealth and the two state senators who spoke, two good men willing to admit to unmet public needs. Unlike the mayor of Buena Vista, they said the four letter word “debt.” In fact, Senators Hangar and Deeds said it many times. However, what they failed to say was another simple and straight word – tax.

My Dear Virginia: There are both good and bad taxes. Remember what Creigh Deeds said about your proud past as a “Pay-as-you-go” state. Now your governors fly up to Wall Street to make sure Moody’s and others don’t drop your AAA bond rating while they worship at the alter of no more taxes. Your current governor should have canceled his flight. He now knows that selling ABC stores and putting up toll booths won’t even fill our winter pot holes. However, if you had raised the gas tax only a nickel a gallon last year would have brought in an extra $200 million, $198,930,848 to be precise. That would have been a beginning. Or we can continue to pass up those bucks and complain when the feds raises their gas tax three nickels. Sincerely, One who wants to get Virginia moving again.

Throughout the long breakfast meeting, Republican Hanger sat next to Democrat Deeds. They talked. They laughed. They kidded each other. You could feel the warmth between these two old friends from across the aisle. You knew that they could iron out any differences if it meant that Virginia would benefit. Emmett and Creigh do the dance of legislation. They do it well. They are good partners. Maybe we should join in.

Column by David Reynolds



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