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What should it do?


Column by David Reynolds
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That’s the multi-trillion-dollar question. It is that big a question because it is one that requires all of us to answer. Yet it is directed to only one segment of our economy, the one with an obesity problem. The “it,” of course, is government.

What should government do? And are we willing to pay for what it does? Or do we prefer to use our grandkids’ weekly allowance?

Please be consistent and logical, as the Greeks taught us. Those ancient Greeks were smart. They advanced civilization. But they might not make it in today’s America. Still, I will go along with them. After all, the Greeks thought of government as a fee for service operation, that whatever government wishes to do, it – meaning we – should pay the bill. 

That was a thought wandering though this old head at last week’s Rockbridge County-Lexington Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the Community” breakfast. It stems from too many years of playing monopoly with your money. While in Washington I was never charged with a crime, in spite of producing fictitious documents called budgets with far too many zeros and seldom a good idea.

The federal government has a Bureau of Engraving and Printing whose presses now work overtime. Unfortunately we can’t print money in Richmond or at any local seat of government. And therein lies our community’s

core problem. We are required to have balanced budgets. That is, state and local governments are required to exercise a little Greek discipline. But not the voters. When reaching voting age, many are surprised to discover thatthere is no Tooth Fairy. But, as Americans, we eventually get things right.

Since we can’t print money our revenues are down. There is about a $7 billion shortfall in Virginia’s current biennium budget. March may provide a brighter picture, but don’t count on it. The Northern Virginia cash cow is drying up. She will continue to give less milk for 2010 and 2011. That also means that the state’s Composite Index that sets support for local schools will leave our kids under nourished.

Sorry, I digress. Back to breakfast at Lexington’s Col Alto Hampton Inn and a local political circus. Five spoke, including two whom we ship to Richmond every winter. When told of 2009 issues, we also learned what is on the 2010 calendar. Why the unfinished business? Is it because of too much citizen participation or a reluctance to exercise a little fiscal discipline? It must be the latter. You can never have too much democracy.

Lexington Mayor Elrod led off. She said that the needed elementary school reconstruction project was put on hold. Of course, everyone knew that the city had only enough money to fund capital improvements for half of its vast school system. This time the other school, the middle school, received the city’s fiscal blessing. After all, it sits a full 1.3 miles from another middle school. I’ve been told that mothers have extreme difficulty choosing between their children. But local government does not seem to have this concern. We will just sit back and watch the county middle graders look across town and see what the city kids are getting, in effect, a new school. Broadband was also brought up. It is our local tooth fairy.

Buena Vista Mayor Clements read a prepared talk. All seems to be well in BV on paper. There are no store closings on Magnolia Avenue and no snow on its public golf course. For a change, Southern Virginia University was referred to in a positive light. Now that is progress!

The county’s poet laureate stood in for Rockbridge County Supervisor Riegel. Thank you, Hunt. We enjoyed your poetry.

Del. Cline talked about regulations (bad); charter schools (good); a new governor from his party (good); road maintenance and new construction (one must come before the other); selling off ABC stores (a hard sell for hard liquor) and the budget. As Ben should know, Kaine’s is DOA. And McDonnell’s will need smoke and mirrors and a four-leaf clover to make it balance.

The final speaker was the happy conservative. (For the first time within memory, the former happy liberal, Mr. Deeds, did not attend. Someone told me that he ran for governor.) In listening to Emmett Hanger you get the impression that he thoroughly enjoys his job. He better, for all the hours he puts in. His focus was the title of this piece. That afternoon Emmett was off to Annapolis, Maryland to do battle with the feds, the EPA. Emmett, if you can save the bay while protecting our pocketbooks, we owe you one.

As for the audience, what did it do at this year’s breakfast? The same as we do every year. We drank coffee. We ate bacon and eggs. We sat. We politely listened. Then at precisely nine o’clock we got up and left. It was business as usual.




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