Legislators, lobbyists and other participants in the just adjourned Virginia General Assembly drifted away from the Capitol today unbeaten but unsatisfied.
In their collective demeanor, they resembled a crowd of collegians, alumni and parents departing the stadium at which the game of the year had just been played to a scoreless tie.
Among the legislative battles fought to a draw where these:
The $7.4 billion biennial budget, out of killer because state officials last year overestimated revenue by $220 million, was balanced without a tax increase. However, many legislators believe the budget is balanced on paper only, holds out the false hope of a government employee pay raise and relies on one-time revenue expedients to such an extent that a general tax increase will be unavoidable next year.
The budget appears to promise continuing state aid to construction to Metrorail in Northern Virginia with a $10 million appropriation. However, the appropriation depends on state approval of a new Metro financing plan not expected until next year. Other proposals intended to draw the state more deeply into Northern Virginia transportation planning were rejected.
A 10-year extension of the annexation moratorium continues enforcement of a truce between cities and counties. However, failure to enact a complex bill exchanging annexation immunity for suburban aid to hard-pressed cities left long term financail problems of the state's urban areas unsolved.
Ambitious proposals to reorganize government were partly enacted. However, proponents of the plan left with a feeling that they must try again next year to achieve their goal of a bureaucracy that responds to voters.
In his final salute to the departing legislators Gov. Mills E. Godwin acknowledged the sense of unfulfillment created by these and other half-victories.
"If no permanent solutions have been forthcoming," he said, "the groundwork has been laid for informed and deliberate choices when nest you meet. If in some instances the tendency has been to put off difficult decisions, you will have the reaction of the people themselves as your guide henceforth."
In interviews before and after the 52-day session ended at 12:55 a.m. today, legislators sounded similar themes. Del. Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk), the acknowledged rogue of the House of Delegates and one of its more influential members, sat on a bench outside the 18th century Capitol today feeding peanuts to pigeons and squirrels and said:
"I don't think this session will go down as one of the great ones - Did the commonwealth get its money's worth from us? Overall, I'd say it was about a break-even deal."
Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) attributed what he called inaction on "human problems" to the paralyzing effect of the revenue shortage. "We all came down here so tensed up over the fear of raising taxes that we weren't able to address a lot of other things effectively," he said.
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) was one of the unusual number of legislators who refused this year to vote for the final budget bill - five in the 40-member Senate and 17 in the 100-member House. He spoke of wavering confidence in the state government's basic management process - the budgeting process - as the cause for his dissatisfaction with the session.
"Virginia may be a fiscally conservative state, but it is not fiscally effective," he said. "To balance this budget by simply finding enough cash here and there to close the kind of revenue gap we had illustrates how poorly administered the state government is. We have got to get a better handle on it."
Before the Assembly convened on Jan. 12, Godwin told its leaders that state tax revenues of about $3.8 billion projected last year were expected to fall about $220 million short. All of this revenue gap was closed by Godwin and the Assembly through transfers and loans from special funds like the highway trust fund, speedups in tax collections that will provide one-time revenue bonuses, across-the-board reductions in agency spending and finally be simply increasing estimates of revenues made by the administration.
"We created some pretty tough problems for the next governor with the fancy financial bookwork that we did," Gartlan said.
Other Northern Virginians share Gartlan's skepticism of Virginia's budgeting process. In an interview early in the session, Del. Thomas J. Rothrock (D-Fairfax), serving his second year on the House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview:
"I'm not too sure we're doing a good job. When an agency comes up for review, we go around the table and everyone complains about the way the money's being spent and says someone ought to really sit down and investigate situations. They we go onto the next agency and nothing ever comes of it."
Despite the acknowledged power of the governor over the budget, Godwin was reluctant to make recommendations and, in the end, was generally unsuccessful in his dealings with the Assembly in this budget conscious session.
A Godwin tax package to finance college and other construction was spurned by the House last year, so this year he waited for a tax consensus that never developed. After the House failed to approve new revenues, Godwin complained to the Senate that the budget contained inadequate reserves and nothing for a state worker pay raise that he himself had not proposed. By then, it was too late to reverse the legislative state of mind against new taxes.
Many Democratic leaders, however, do not blame the Republican governor for failing to propose new taxes in this election year for all 100 House members. "It wouldn't have done any good," Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), the Senate majority leader said. "The House leadership decided against a tax increase and as a practical political matter that settled it."
The most significant fiscal initiative of the session, the $125 million college, prison, port and and park bond issue proposal that the Assembly and Godwin agreed to submit to voters next November, came about in a haphazard manner that legislators hope will not undercut its appeal at the polls.
When Godwin failed to propose either bonds or new taxes to finance a backlog of generally acknowledged construction needs, the House threw together a $200 million bond proposal just before the deadline for action on its own bills. The governor immediately called this list extravagant and finally sat down with House and Senate subcommittees to devise the $125 million list.
Brault is among those legislators of both parties who believe the process would have been more orderly if Godwin had proposed a bond issue when the Assembly convened and then let the legislators reshape it to gain maximum support.
Godwin's passive approach to fiscal issues seemed to extend to other areas. He was neutral on governmental organization to the point that he seemed at one point to frustrate his own inclinations.
Late in the session he agreed to send the House a bill creating a new Secretary of Natural Resources. By then, however, his own Secretary of Commerce and Resources, Earl J. Shiflet, had helped kill the proposal twice in the House and Speaker John Warren Cooke would not entertain a rule suspension to consider it a third time.
In the absence of a cohesive legislative program proposed by the executive, the session's output of bills approved consists largely of proposals that have slowly developed in the legislative process over a period of years.
Together, these bills are acknowledged to represent at last a modest step forward for consumer protection, open government, health care cost control, land use control and treatment of juveniles in state care.