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Cruise control: Virginia needs reliable funds for the roads ahead
Virginia legislature, like our roads, in gridlock

  Richard Amrhine's archive
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Date published: 3/19/2006

By Richard Amrhine

YOU KNOW THINGS aren't going well in Richmond when not even the Republicans are talking to one another. The quarrelling between the House and Senate--both chambers led by the GOP--has actually upstaged the usual Republican-Democrat partisanship.

I like to perform an annual General Assembly assessment, and the timing should have been perfect. The session was supposed to end on Saturday, March 11, as the state Constitution mandates, but with the budget unresolved, it didn't.

So, unfortunately, I'm all set to do my postmortem, but the patient has yet to expire. He is currently in a state of suspended animation, and a week from now will be back at work. Remarkable.

Oh, what the heck--let's dig in anyway.

The business left unfinished by the General Assembly is the state budget--its single most important duty. Without the so-called blueprint for spending, nothing happens. Having ended its session without a budget for three of the past five years, the Assembly is making this a bad habit.

To the average voter, whose livelihood might hinge on getting work done on time, it is simply ridiculous.

If there's no budget by July 1, and certain agencies begin to shut down, voters will have good reason to be angry.

Previously, the problem has been dealing with a budget shortfall--finding ways to make ends meet in economically challenged times. This year the issue is transportation--and whether it's fair to ask Virginians to pony up $1 billion a year to fix the state's ailing infrastructure. Clearly that's a tough sell just two years after legislating a $1.4 billion tax increase, and with the state sitting on what's described as a $2 billion surplus.

Of course no one expects Virginia's lawmakers to deal with a $72 billion spending plan in willy-nilly fashion. Taxpayers demand accountability. They want wasteful spending eliminated, but they also want services.

With the Republican-heavy Assembly having shot down several of freshman Gov. Kaine's initiatives, it's amazing that that the tax increase legislation has lived this long.

At the heart of this impasse are two Fredericksburg-area Republicans who consider themselves friends but in recent years have seen a rift develop between their tax-levying philosophies.

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