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Cruise control: Virginia needs reliable funds for the roads ahead page 2
Virginia legislature, like our roads, in gridlock

RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 3/19/2006

By Richard Amrhine

continued

Sen. John Chichester, formerly of Stafford and now of Northumberland, holds the Senate's purse strings by virtue of his Senate Finance Committee chairmanship. Sen. Chichester has led the Senate into a bipartisan willingness to understand the value of new state revenues. The vote two years ago merely filled the gap, finally, created by car tax revenues lost under Gov. Jim Gilmore's administration. Replacing those funds was inevitable.

Leading the House is Speaker Bill Howell of Stafford County, who takes very seriously his leadership of the "people's chamber" and is as certain as he can be that the people don't want to pay more taxes. In light of the voting defections that led to the tax increase two years ago, he is now using tactics to keep House Republicans in line that Tony Soprano would appreciate.

Chichester and Howell are currently having a failure to communicate, as Strother Martin put it in "Cool Hand Luke." But there is a lot more at stake in Virginia's budget than there is between a chain-gang boss and an insolent convict--the lives of 7 million Virginians, for example.

Like the nation's "blue states" and "red states," Virginia has blue counties and red counties. If you recall that electoral map after the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry managed 48 percent of the popular vote, but you needed a magnifying glass to see the blue spots on the map. But those blue spots were generally cities--areas of high-density population--that carry a lot of weight at the polls.

In Virginia, this budget debate is being driven, so to speak, by Northern Virginia and Tidewater, densely populated locales that are fed up with traffic congestion, and the toll it takes on the environment and the general quality of life.

Those who live across the vast majority of the state's land mass couldn't care less about traffic congestion, aside from Saturday nights at the drive-in.

But since these congested areas are where most of the state's revenues are generated, they are the squeaky wheel.

No one is pro-taxation any more than anyone is pro-abortion. Both should be viewed as a last resort, but as an available option under difficult circumstances.


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