Low expectations

Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 9, 2010

No knock on this area’s legislative delegation, but the collective message from lawmakers at the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce’s semiannual Eggs and Issues breakfast was less than encouraging.

The 2010 regular session of the General Assembly kicks off next week in Richmond, and, if the Western Tidewater delegation’s assessment is correct, there will be little for this columnist to like.

* At a time when our community needs all of the advantages it can get in economic development, lawmakers are unlikely to fund significant transportation improvements. That means two projects critically important for job creation in Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County — the widening of Route 58/Holland Road through western Suffolk and a new Route 460 — almost certainly won’t happen soon.

* Nonpartisan redistricting — Virginia’s only hope for more competitive and ideologically diverse legislative and congressional races — won’t fly in time for remapping triggered by the 2010 Census. Despite some signals from Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell and the Senate leadership that they are amenable to the concept, House leaders remain steadfastly opposed. So the gerrymandering will continue.

* A modest proposal designed to save taxpayers some money and help cash-strapped local governments fund important services like education and police protection has been dismissed out of hand by lawmakers even before the session begins.

I haven’t studied closely legislation to combine the offices of treasurer and commissioner of the revenue into one director of finance — and am not ready to endorse it unequivocally — but it sure would be nice if lawmakers would let the ink dry on Gov. Tim Kaine’s proposed budget before they dismiss the concept.

Lawmakers’ declaration that the proposal is dead on arrival at the General Assembly reminded me why government rarely gets more efficient.

In the private sector, multitasking by employees is common and has sustained many businesses during an era of shrinking revenues. Meantime, the public sector can’t even have a discussion about consolidation.

Short of a statewide mandate, it seems lawmakers would at least give localities — especially small ones like Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight — the option to combine constitutional offices if the electorate deemed it wise.

Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, said he hasn’t heard from anyone who likes the idea. Next time your local government raises your taxes or tells you it can’t afford to hire more police officers to keep you safe, consider giving Quayle a call.