David Reynolds: It’s that time again
It’s that time again. Virginia General Assembly time. Remember that little election way back in November 2011, the one when all 140 seats of the General Assembly were up for grabs? Now it is time for the winners to take their annual winter trek down the James. As for those the voters have excused from such chilly trips to Richmond, they are free to go elsewhere this winter, preferably to a more hospitable spot where “the weather better suits their souls.”
And what will the members of the General Assembly do in our imperial city? The Virginia Reel, of course! You know the dance. After a short walk, you sashay. That’s not only a dance step, but a political one. Its where the left moves off to the side, only to be chased by the right. Then the reverse takes place. There is also some childish skipping, both to the left and right. The reel ends when everyone smiles, joins hands and returns to their original positions.
This year’s Virginia Reel starts on January 9 and runs for 45 days or until the shrimp runs out. It’s called the short dance. Virginia’s dance of legislation is about two things, who gets a new partner and who was able to hold on to the partner they brought. However, this year there will be an extra dance. A new governor will be elected in November and every member’s dance card will include their favorite candidate’s name.
Let’s hold off for now talking about the gubernatorial campaign. As always it will be fun and expensive. Nonetheless, members of the General Assembly always do a good job of putting smiles on our faces and spending our tax dollars.
If you question my thesis, let’s look at Exhibit A, the never ending roads debate. A few preliminary dance steps have already been taken. They are in keeping with Virginia politics. That is, none involve an obvious solution, such as raising the gasoline tax, a tax (I prefer to call it a user fee) that has gone unchanged for 27 years!
In the six examples that follow, names have been withheld in order not to cause any embarrassment. However, titles are noted to show how widespread is Virginia’s fiscal lunacy. Here goes.
– A GOP delegate from Fairfax County wants to abolish the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax in its entirely! And fund roads from a bigger 5.9% sales tax. The delegate has stated that his proposal is one “without increasing taxes.”
– Another Republican delegate, this one from Virginia Beach, is calling for a regional roads one percent sales tax referendum in Hampton Roads. Yet he knows full well that the voters in his area and in Northern Virginia rejected such an approach in 2002.
– The speaker of the House has indicated that he might put the brakes on any significant transportation legislation because there is not enough time. He must want more time devoted to the countless bills which members will introduce and soon be forgotten, even by their sponsors.
– A senator from Powhatan has proposed raising the gas tax and lowering the sales tax. Question: Under what shelI will be the roads money?
– The current governor has show interest in expanding the number of toll roads. Gov, I’m sorry, toll roads were bad ideas in the 18th Century and they are a worse one for this one.
– The governor has also mentioned selling off ABC liquor stores, indexing the gas tax and corporate sponsorship of rest areas. Gov, another thought: Allow the General Assembly to come up with bad ideas. They’re better at it.
So, let’s see if I have this right. Only in Virginia is it okay to dedicate proceeds from a lottery to support our public schools, but not okay to dedicate a suitable gasoline tax to maintain our public roads.
Conservatives love to quote the Constitution. But the U. S. Constitution says nothing about the size of government, only who should do what. And the core functions of government, i.e., education, health, safety and transportation are the responsibility of the states. Richmond and Washington are two different governments — not two cities joined by I-95. By treating all governments the same, conservatives give all government a bad name.
But, friends, please don’t worry. It will soon be February 23 and the Richmond snows will have melted away. Only partisan slush will remain. General Assembly members will have found their way home. Town hall meetings will be held telling us all about the big dance on the James, how they went back and forth with their opposite numbers and finally formed circles of consensus, just like those good old days in Colonial Williamsburg. You and I will sit and listen. And then we’ll go to bed dreaming that next year will be better.