Northern Virginia's power elite paid respects to state government's today, and whether they were Beltway millionaires taking the governor to task or earnest Chamber of Commerce types getting some face time with the new House speaker, their urgent messages were identical:
Send more money to our region. Our roads, our schools, our taxpayers and businesses need it badly. And they need it yesterday.
In what has become a December rite leading to January's return of the General Assembly to the capital, Northern Virginia business and civic leaders traveled 100 miles down Interstate 95 to alert statewide Republican leaders to pressing needs back home.
Their reception was decidedly mixed. John T. "Til" Hazel Jr., the prominent suburban developer, urged the administration of Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) to create a commission to reform the state's tax code to increase funding for roads and schools. Gilmore's spokesman promptly swatted that notion aside.
Four hours later, James W. Dyke Jr., the president of Fairfax County's Chamber of Commerce, led a small delegation to the General Assembly building for a private meeting with S. Vance Wilkins Jr., a rural legislator and the new speaker of the House of Delegates.
"They won't always hear what they want to hear from me," Wilkins mused before their meeting, which Dyke later described as "very productive, very cordial."
"We recognize we're not always going to agree, but we can have a dialogue," Dyke said.
This morning, Hazel appeared at a downtown hotel, a stone's throw from the Capitol, to plead once again for some common sense in state politics--the kind of sense that he and other members of the bipartisan Virginia Forward business coalition believe should result in an overhaul of the state tax code in ways that would provide more money for transportation and education. Their argument: Northern Virginia's prosperity depends on easing gridlock and building enough classrooms for a booming population.
"There's no political will on either side of the aisle to address the problem," grumped Hazel, who has championed an array of public money producers--including new taxes, options for new local levies and major bond programs--to pay for infrastructure improvements.
Virginia Forward, led by retired executive and former gubernatorial hopeful Earle C. Williams (R), hired Rudolph G. Penner, director of the Congressional Budget Office in the mid-1980s, to assess Virginia's generally low-tax climate, which they contended today leaves room for new taxes that would leave the economy vibrant while paying for services.
"We wish they would stop telling people they can have a free lunch," Williams said of tax-averse politicians such as Gilmore. "The status quo cannot qualify as good government in the 21st century."
Mark A. Miner, Gilmore's press secretary, scoffed at Virginia Forward's pleas, saying, "The governor remains cautious about the continued drumbeat for tax increases.
"He's proven that in this economy he can improve services like education and cut taxes," Miner said. "The days of blank-check government are over."
Still, a host of elected officials from Northern Virginia and several other communities, representing 4.2 million people along the urban crescent from Washington to Hampton Roads, tried today to pry open that checkbook.
A coalition of mayors and chairs, including the county board chairmen in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, as well as the mayors of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and Manassas, fired off a letter to Gilmore and the legislature beseeching them for school funding and, failing that, dramatic new funding "sources" for localities.
"On the issue of education funding, we have reached common cause," said Richmond Mayor Timothy M. Kaine (D), the spokesman for the mayors and chairs.
Del. Kenneth R. Plum of Reston, the state Democratic chairman, reflected on the long, cold winter awaiting his fellow Northern Virginians who drive the I-95 circuit.
"People here are going to smile nicely and nod graciously, but I don't see where the give is," Plum said. "It's going to be tough going. We're up against some strong forces in the legislature and executive branch."