Ken Plum: Tough choices

A legislative session is filled with tough choices. Allocating scarce resources in the budget presents difficult choices that have been discussed many times in this column. This legislative session has been presented the choice by the Governor of taking money from the general fund that supports public schools, police, and mental health programs and others and using it to support building highways. We need traffic congestion relief for sure, but I trust that it will not be at the expense of the schools that have already seen their budgets reduced with the recession.

Policy issues present tough choices as well. Health care advocates who are concerned about the obesity epidemic among children lobbied for mandatory physical education classes in the schools. School officials who are already mandated to raise reading and math scores, provide an introduction to science, technology, and engineering, and as of this legislative session teach financial literacy raised a question as to when the additional physical education would be offered and with a declining budget who would teach it. On financial education at the high school level, banks and financial institutions lobbied for an additional, mandatory course in financial literacy. Obviously, more people need to better know how to handle their finances. But for families with children who are in art and music and advanced placement classes there is little or no time left in the schedule.

The Governor had a Commission on Governmental Reform that sought to eliminate nearly 20 small boards and commissions. These were small groups that had specialties that advised government agencies for free. The Governor will say he reduced the size of government. What he is eliminating are people who served the Commonwealth for free and provided expertise that is not present in state staff. Government gets a little smaller but is a lot less inclusive of people that probably increase the relevance and effectiveness of government.

Parents seeking support for their children who have autism had the choice of endorsing a bill that is very narrow in the number of children it serves with the hopes of building on it in the future or suffering defeat at the hands of the insurance lobby for about the tenth year. They went for the limited bill that hopefully can be expanded in the future.

Many choices in the legislative process are not black or white, right or wrong. There are many shades of gray and many interpretations of the same set of facts. There are many tough choices; that is what makes the job of a legislator both interesting and challenging.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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