Monday, June 23, 2008

Thanks for nothing, General Assembly

The rift between Northern Virginia and the rest of the Commonwealth is nothing new. The rural parts of the state live decidedly different lives than us in suburbia. Out there, life is quiet and uncomplicated; here, I hear a car or truck buzz by every few seconds at 11:42 p.m.

As the above story notes, geopolitical factions (in a micro sense) exist in our state government. Today, our legislature was supposed to hold a special session to figure out just how to fund our overwhelmed transportation system.

But does anyone really expect anything to be accomplished?

Gov. Tim Kaine (D) has one plan, which includes the raising of some existing taxes - notably, our sales tax and various vehicle-related fees. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) wants to raise taxes on gas. Republicans in the House of Delegates, a group largely comprised of those outside of Northern Virginia, are adamant about not approving any state-wide tax hikes.

Kaine's is the better of the two plans, though it would be interesting to hear Saslaw's defense of his plan in the fall come election time. With gas whizzing past $4 a gallon, it's not hard to envision Saslaw needing to polish up the resume. Kaine's plan is better, though still unadviseable in such a poor economy. Why not wait a few months to see if the economy improves and the populace can better withstand a tax increase? It's not like the roads will get any worse in a few months; they can't get any worse than they already are.

An important side note: One factoid in this Fox 5 story (click the first video) mentions that though we pay 40 percent of the taxes in the state, we would only receive 14 percent in return. Meanwhile, in a Lynchburg News & Advance editorial, the paper wonders: "Del. David Albo [R-Fairfax, my addition], a top member of the tax-hating wing of the House GOP, has a simple plan to solve his region’s problems: Simply change the funding formula and send state money to the transportation districts based on population. Want to venture a guess how the rural Lynchburg District would fare under that plan?" I suppose that the fine people of Lynchburg have a greater right to my tax dollars than Interstate 95, which I drive daily.

Not that any of that matters. The House Republicans, meanwhile, continue to show their nonchalance at the challenges we face every day. Ostensibly, their job is to govern the Commonwealth for the benefit of all; but here we are, hoping desperately they'll throw us a crumb while they stand back and laud their principles. The time has long passed for grandstanding, gentlemen.

I suppose cutting spending in other areas wouldn't be an option. Surely our friends in the legislature don't employ too much pork-barrel spending, do they? Our attorney general wants an audit to make sure the Department of Transportation uses its money efficiently; such an audit would surely cost the Commonwealth in financial and human resources that we don't really have.

Virginia's General Assembly got us into this mess. It's their job to dig us out. But that won't happen, not as long as William Howell and his cohorts are allowed to punt the issue for the umpteenth time. It won't happen as long as Kaine, Saslaw and the Democrats can't come up with any sort of alternative that, even if only temporarily, can stop the bleeding.

It's all about principles, even as we suffer through another day of clogged roads and no hope. Another day of being held hostage by our supposed leaders, many of whom derive a fair portion of their paychecks from our region's taxes. Yet they are unaccountable to us, and unwilling or unable to recognize that their misguided indecision has tangible effects.

The great unwashed pay the price for their principled stands. Compromise is unbecoming.

How I dearly wish I could vote against the lot of them.

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