Ken Plum: Grand illusion in Richmond
Recently I performed a magic show for children at Barnes and Noble in Reston as part of a fundraiser for a local preschool. Part of the success of performing magic is dependent upon the ability of the magician to divert the attention of the audience from what is going on to the illusion of what seems to be happening.
A ballpoint pen seems to stick a hole in a dollar bill, although no hole is found when the pen is removed. The peanut butter jar and the jelly jar seem to mysteriously change places. A string of bright beads is produced from an empty container. Magic and illusion are great forms of entertainment.
Unfortunately the agenda shaping up for the 2012 General Assembly session in Richmond includes some sleight-of-hand to make the state legislature look good in the short run but could leave local governments on the losing end of the trick. The Governor’s Task Force for Local Government Mandate Review is proposing the elimination of a number of existing mandates.
The Task Force is focusing on 105 education mandates and 80 local government mandates. While many of these requirements that state government placed on local government may have made sense at the time they were enacted, some are redundant, unnecessary, or meaningless today. A good house cleaning is always in order. Also under review by the Task Force is a possible moratorium on new state mandates to local governments. Review the report at
As local governments and school boards are celebrating the elimination of some nuisance reporting requirements and pesky accountability reports, their attention will need to be shifted quickly to the other side of the stage for the grand illusion that is about to take place. In order to balance the state budget, the General Assembly is likely to whittle away at the schools’ Standards of Quality. And for every mandate that is lifted in the state SOQs, localities will lose state aid. For a partnership that should be equal between state and local governments, a shift has already occurred with local governments picking up 60 percent of costs to the state’s 40 percent. State general funding to education that in FY 2009 was $5.6 billion is expected to dip to $4.9 billion in FY 2012.
The grandest of the illusions may be the expected attempt in the 2012 session of the General Assembly to shift secondary road maintenance from state to local governments. The state would balance its transportation budget with this little trick, but local governments would be saddled with millions of dollars in expenses. For Fairfax County the cost would be in the hundreds of millions. For taxpayers the show may even be made to look attractive in the realignment of state and local government responsibilities with counties taking care of local roads. When taxpayers check their wallets and realize they are suddenly empty from paying the additional property tax that will be required to pay for road repairs, the trick will not be nearly so entertaining.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.