Every year, the business group Virginia FREE rates the Old Dominion’s legislators according to how well they meet the organization’s definition of what it means to be “pro-business.”
Despite the free-for-all conservatism of this year’s General Assembly, the legislature only gets about a “C-plus” grade. The big reason? Lack of progress on improving roads.
Republicans control the Senate, with a split of 20 seats each between the parties and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling holding the deciding vote. FREE’s figures, however, show that the Senate rates only a 78.4 “pro-business” score, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. The GOP-dominated House of Delegates comes in slightly lower, at 77.7.
Virginia FREE says that the legislative year started well enough with Gov. Robert F. McDonnell pushing to take on $3 billion in new debt for roads, to be used along with another $1 billion in previously unspent funds. But he and the legislature failed to do anything about raising gasoline taxes, which have languished at 17.5 cents per gallon for nearly three decades and haven’t even been adjusted for inflation. “At a bare minimum,” the group says, “new money is required to meet basic maintenance needs, restore viability to the construction budget and ensure that Virginia is a viable partner with the private sector on (public-private transportation) projects.”
FREE also issued its perpetual complaints about a minor business tax that has been around since the War of 1812. Legislators are reluctant to do much about the Business Professional and Occupational License tax because the money raised by it goes to localities, and the legislature would have to make up for the loss of the funds if it were eliminated.
What’s interesting about the Virginia FREE assessment is that the 2012 General Assembly is memorable for outlandish moves involving social conservatism. It gained national attention for bills requiring women considering abortions to have an ultrasound exam, keeping gays from adopting children in some cases and expanding the ability to make handgun purchases.
While Virginia was highlighted by satirists on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” not much was really done to handle the problems important to the state’s business community, which for decades has dominated the conservative wings of both political parties.
Virginia’s road problems, meanwhile, remain largely unsolved.