A proposal that would divert millions in state highway money to Northern Virginia and other population centers of the state today breezed through a legislative committee on a vote that some legislators said symbolizes a dramatic loss of power by rural legislators.
Some members of the House of Delegates said the lopsided 19-to-1 vote in the House Roads Committee, which long has been hostile to changing the way Virginia distributes highway funds, indicates the increasing clout of urban and suburban legislators.
"Times are changing," said Del. Donald A. McGlothlin, the committee's Demcratic chairman from rural southwest Virginia, who grudgingly voted for the changes. "The good old boy from down on the farm is no longer in control."
Legislators from Northern Virginia and other populous areas have begun a major lobbying effort this session to sway would-be opponents into accepting the changes. Armed with color-coded charts, they have stalked the hallways and offices of the state Capitol attempting to sell their controversial and complex revisions of the highway funding formulas.
The measure adopted today is a compromise drafted by an influential delegate from Tidewater. It would cushion the financial blow to some rural areas by increasing the amount of money they would receive for maintaining unpaved roads.
"The people who put this together had a little something for almost everybody on the committee ," said McGlothlin. "It was hard to vote against. There were more gainers than losers."
Many rural legislators, however, are balking at the changes they say will hurt their home districts. "There are relatively few statesmen when it comes to dollars," said McGlothlin.
Proponents of the measure are predicting a narrow victory in the full House, but say the toughest fight will be in the Senate where home districts are larger and more diverse.
"It's going to be a knockdown slugfest," said Sen. John W. Russell (R-Fairfax).
The issue seems simple enough to any politician: It's a matter of going home with dollars for what is perhaps one of the most important issues in any legislative district. In Northern Virginia, more road money means a chance to help alleviate the massive traffic jams most commuters encounter twice a day. In rural areas, more dollars for roads means a chance to encourage economic growth.
This session, however, the issue seems far more complex to many legislators. They have been bombarded with different versions of how the proposed changes will affect their districts.
One set of figures indicates Northern Virginia would gain about $5.8 million if the changes are enacted. But Del. Robert E. Harris (R-Fairfax) argues that the suburban area that includes Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington and Prince William would see an additional $2.7 million.
State Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax), head of the Northern Virginia delegation, said it's all a question of whom the legislators want to believe.