Old Dominion politicians and economic boosters love to tout the state’s typically high ranking in various surveys of the “best states to do business.” But the latest such ranking, by CNBC, shows Virginia dropping from first place to third, behind Texas and Utah.
One reason is roads. “Infrastructure — specifically the state’s perpetually clogged highways — has long been an issue in fast-growing Virginia, and there’s fresh evidence this year that the state is having trouble keeping pace,” CNBC says. Virginia dropped from 10th to 33rd place in this category.
The other big problem is that Virginia, a traditional big government state that enjoyed billions in federal defense spending after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, faces a major cut in such spending.
That’s especially curious since cutting the government spending that so benefits Virginia is a major political cry in state races. Pushed on by the Tea Party movement, candidates, especially Republicans, complain about big government without noting how government benefits the state. At the same time, these candidates enjoy reciting Virginia’s “business friendly” ratings without making the connection.
Although one survey is not a trend, it is bad news for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who basks in the GOP spotlight as the convention approaches. While it is true that McDonnell has made more funding available for highways, he also spends too much time on complex and controversial transportation projects that large municipalities don’t want, such as expanding U.S. 460 from Suffolk to Petersburg.
The effort and money would be better spent ending traffic jams on the Beltway in Northern Virginia, the state’s real economic engine, and unsnarling bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads. A simple solution would be to raise the state’s ridiculously low gasoline tax, but that’s anathema for tax-averse conservatives.
Another distraction confronts McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill “The Jobs Guy” Bolling, who is being set up by the state’s Republican establishment to run against maverick Attorney Genenal Ken Cuccinelli in the next gubernatorial race.
Both could have spent more time preparing the state for all-important federal jobs cuts. Instead, McDonnell has squandered precious time on his offbeat idea to turn Virginia into the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.” He’s pushed offshore oil drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill; nuclear power after earthquakes; and coal after the deadly Upper Big Branch disaster. He’s getting nowhere on any of these fronts.
If CNBC’s rating trend keeps up, it also will benefit former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, who is running for U.S. Senate against George Allen, a perennial GOP favorite.
For ordinary Virginians such as me, the problems remain, although I was very lucky yesterday. I needed to take someone to Baltimore Washington International Airport yesterday. It was an unusually quick trip up from Richmond. As we turned off the George Washington Memorial Parkway and headed east into Maryland, the Beltway traffic was backed up for five miles going into the Old Dominion. My prayers had been answered.