Nothing was delineated more clearly by the recent session of the Virginia General Assembly than the need to create a more rational state-local tax structure and a more rational division of responsibility between state and local governments for public services.
These challenges to the state government system could be more neatly put as the need for "tax reform" and for equitable "revenue sharing" among the cities counties of the state.
Unfortunately, those two phrases have been used and abused so frequently in the formulation of federal government policy that they have lost their meanings.
The problem the state faces is most apparent in the outcries of city and county officials who complain that their local governments are being asked to carry a greater and greater burden of public services with increasingly inadequate revenues.
The Assembly has wrestled mightily with one aspect of this problem for two years by trying to put together, without success, a group of bills known as "the annexation package." So far, the legislators have failed to find a way to give the cities the revenue stability they need if they lose the opportunity to expand their tax base through annexation.
The Assembly has nibbed at other aspects of the local government tax and revenue problem by trying to provide relief from two local taxes - the property tax and the gross receipts tax on businesses and professions.
The proposals for property tax relief finally were consigned to a study commission recommended by Gov. John N. Dalton and, as its last act of the session, the Assembly imposed a ceiling on local gross receipts taxes.
When it becomes fully effective in the 1980s, the gross receipts tax change will not have satisfied those who think it is an unfair tax and should be eliminated altogether, nor will it have satisfied the local governments who say they need tax revenue - whether it is fair or not.
The unsuccessful bid by Northern Virginians to enact a one-cent, regional sales tax in the Washington suburbs to finance Metro and urban road projects also represented an effort to grapple with the local government tax and revenue problem.
In the end, it was beaten because the House of Delegates leadership did not want to earmark for one area and one program a large slice of tax revenue they believe may be needed for statewide use in a few years.
Defeat of the transportation tax understandably angered those Northern Virginians who believe they already contribute more than their share to state tax revenues.
The failure of the state government to ideal effectively with these tax and revenue problems can be attributed in large part to lack of convincing information on which the Assembly can base its policy decisions.
The state Revenue Resources and Economic Commission recently reported that Virginia is just beginning to pull together the data it needs to determine how much each city and county is spending for government services.
This information is essential to deciding whether the residents of any locality are being taxed too heavily - or not heavily enough - for the schools they use or for the health, welfare, law enforcement and transportation programs operated jointly for them by the state and local governments.
The Revenue Resources Commission, which is 10 years old and was given an independent staff only last year, already has discovered great inequities in local taxation. It recommended the gross receipts tax change enacted last week and has warned that the hodgepodge system of local personal property taxes in the state may require even more drastic correction.
The commission's charge is to recommend tax reforms with special attention to the revenue needs of cities and counties. However, its own reports say that its membership of part-time legislators and private citizens has been unable to give these problems adequate attention so far.
There is an obvious vold in Virginia's system of proposing state-local tax policies and revenue allocations that only a strong executive can fill. However, the last major inititiative by a Virginia governor in this area was Gov. Mills E. Godwin's proposal for statewide sales taxes in 1966. They were promptly enacted.
In his parting message last January, Godwin urged the Assembly to give top priority to the annexation package, but neither he nor Dalton made any suggestions for putting it together. So far, Dalton has not made any major tax reform proposals or given any sign that he intends to address possible imbalances in revenue allocations throughout the state.
It is too early to blame him for any inequities in the present system, but not too early to begin to wonder what he is going to do about them.