David Reynolds: Long live the cash cow

It is always winter in Richmond when the General Assembly meets. That’s the problem. It’s not autumn in New York. This past winter was again the season of political discontent.

In the imperial city along the James hot air from the 140 delegates and senators go up against all that cold stuff down from God. It makes no difference whether the session is long or short, you know who always wins. As a result the General Assembly always gets stuck in the winter doldrums. Thousands of little bills are introduced. And 99% end up in one big shedding machine.

What gives? After all, Richmond is a neat place. It has more statues to more dead generals than in Lexington. But why all the dead legislative committees that meet from dawn to dusk? On some days there are dozens of meetings. That creates a lot of hot air. However, it is put to good use. The General Assembly Building can get quite cold.

Take the transportation committees for example. It has been 24 years since a gasoline tax has been reported out. Oh sure, our Virginia gentlemen and their ladies play around the edges. (And play elsewhere, I understand.) But what have the two wheels committees done? Not produced a single four-by-four truck. Oh yes, last year they raised the tax on diesel fuel when the truckers were out to lunch.

Or take what our chief Sixth District Republican Party operative considers as important bills: Making license plates with “In God We Trust;” exempting bullion coins from the sales tax; making it unlawful for illegal aliens to be eligible for instate tuition; declaring an unborn child as a person; control of wiretaps by sheriffs and police chiefs; allowing authorities to become political subdivisions; exempting certain homes from federal cap and trade laws; and setting rules for the commercial minting and sale of commemorative coins of Virginia presidents. (Full Disclosure: I am not making this up.)

I wonder what the unimportant bills are! Doesn’t Virginia have any pressing problems? Sure, but the GA would rather not deal with them. Please note that none of the above deal directly with the state’s core functions – education, transportation, safety and health.

But why complain? Virginia is a conservative state. It leans right. Many in the VA GOP are not comfortable with government. So what happens when those on the far right get elected? They get scared. They make sure that they don’t live up to their campaign promises. That way they get their old jobs back – back to their comfort zone as the party out of power.

And what happens in Richmond when the right and left clash? Nothing. Zip. Stalled legislation. Few Virginians will openly admit it, but we like it this way. We love whatever does not move. That’s why we are in love with our history.

Sure, there are Virginians who believe that there can be some good coming out of government. But their beliefs are not their own. Try pushing a bill through the General Assembly without quoting Thomas Jefferson. It ends up in the hopper. TJ set the gold standard. Our dilemma is that the mines are closed.

Nonetheless, there are those alive who are not pleased. Some GA members would not mind crossing the river to Maryland. I bring this out-of-state comparison because I come from out-of-state. I come from Northern Virginia, NoVa. I now live in Real Virginia, ReVa. However, ReVa can’t live without NoVa, our cash cow. If Dulles Airport and Tysons Corner were built in Maryland, Virginia would have a budget shortfall problem. And most of the beltway bandits work on our side of the Potomac allowing Virginia to legally rob them and pass the money downstate to us.

Remember this: Without NoVa the General Assembly would be forced to abandon thousands of bills each session. There would be only one piece of legislative action – asking Washington for a bailout.

Do you realize how fortunate we are to live in Real Virginia? Thank the General Assembly. Consider roads. Long ago the GA set a funding formula based on lane miles – not usage! Of course, that leaves NoVa with the short end of the maintenance stick. It allows little used US 11 in the Shenandoah Valley to be repaved whether it needs it or not. And it allows us to drive 70 mph. The only way you can drive that fast in NoVa is to go through the car that is stopped in front of you.

Now you know why we don’t get much news out of Richmond every winter. There is none! Unless the cash cow dies.

Column by David Reynolds


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