Saving gas, spending money, increasing tax relief, lowering utility bills. These issues, alluring to voters, also are attractive this election year to Virginia's state legislators, who have been courting their constituents with months of subcommittee hearings as a prelude to the November election.
"Every committee that's looking into energy is looking into gasohol," said one legislative source, noting the issue's appeal to farmers. "And, of course, it's an election year."
Other issues sparking interest so far have been how to use the projected $150 million state surplus, getting rid of a state manufacturing tax, providing income tax credits for businesses investing in declining neighborhoods, lowering or eliminating taxes on residential fuel oil bills and limiting state expenditures or taxing authority.
One of the legislature's first activities will be tackling the projected surplus. Many Democrats are urging tax cuts, but the Republican administration has said more money is needed for the state's supplemental retirement system; for corrections, because of the growing prison population; and for state employes' cost-of-living wage increases.
Some legislators are considering allocating several million dollars to test income tax credits for businesses that train the hard-core unemployed or beautify the declining neighborhoods in which they're located, one legislative aide said. The state got the idea from similar legislation in Pennsylvania.
Also on the legislators' agenda, is how to help residents cope with high fuel bills this winter. A committee is considering lowering consumers' state sales tax on fuel oil from 4 cents on the dollar to 2 cents or eliminating the tax because of fuel oil's comparatively high cost, one legislative source said.
Then, there is the bevy of bills perpetuating the Proposition 13 tax-limiting fervor. This Friday, a subcommittee will consider the more than a dozen bills limiting state or local taxes and expenditures left over from last session.
The gasohol issue is one that gained momentum last spring and summer. It could prove popular in Virginia farmlands where corn, a common ingredient in making alcohol for gasohol, is expected to surpass last year's 50.4-million-bushel crop.
New legislation is under consideration to give tax rebates to farmers who sell their crops to produce alcohol for gasohol, one legislative source said. Supporting an experimental farm to manufacture alcohol for gasohol for use in state vehicles is another legislative possibility.
Another energy-related issue is the resurgence of small, local hydroelectric power plants. Dams on the numerous rivers running through Virginia haven't been tapped for electric power because until recently, electricity bought from the Virginia Electric Power Co. was considered cheaper.
But many local consumers want the hydroelectric power plants to start up again, one legislative source said. So legislators are investigating low interest loan plans and tax breaks for those interested in constructing or restarting the plants.
Another energy alternative is garbage. Two years ago, the state authorized the awarding of $2,500 plus 5 cents per capita to a jurisdiction interested in starting a resource recovery plant, a legislative aide said. The state is now considering increasing the appropriation to help more jurisdictions invest in their own trash thrashers.
Assemblymen also are looking into lifeline utility rates, that is, charging customers who use more energy higher rates, rather than giving them a break as is done now.Lifeline rates could help low income persons pay their bills and, at the same time, would save energy.
The committee studying this proposal hasn't decided whether legislation would apply only to commercial, industrial, residential or a combination of users.
Also being considered is some change in the structure and function of the State Corporation Commission, which oversees all of the state's utilities.
In the banking area, legislators are looking at the bank stock tax, which is now believed to violate federal law. The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled that its bank stock tax, which is almost identical to Virginia's, is illegal.
After all the committees have met, staff members prepare reports, which are given to the General Assembly and also used by legislators in formulating bills for the upcoming session.
But then, that depends on who gets elected.