MUCH LIKE their counterparts in Maryland, the legislators who convene in Richmond today will be counting the green blessings of a healthy state economy and directing some of these proceeds to improvements in social programs. Key to this year's moves will be the first two-year spending blueprint totally produced by Gov. Gerald Baliles, who has just celebrated his second anniversary in a job he must relinquish in another two years (a fact not overlooked by his executive teammates, Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, who are both poised in the wings).
If the governor's second half goes as well as his first, he will have made quite an imprint. He has enjoyed success with the lawmakers -- generating record sums of money for transportation and education. Now the attention will turn to health and human services, with an emphasis on mental health and housing for the mentally disabled. As staff writer Sandra Evans has reported, there hasn't been a serious state initiative in this field since the early 1970s. Gov. Baliles is expected to push for substantial improvements, and Northern Virginia -- where the needs are great -- should find special consideration in the allocations.
As in Annapolis, how any of the money is passed around the state will be a session-long intramural contest, with Richmond's concentration centering on the formula for allocating education funds. Virginia also shares Maryland's recently renewed interest in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. But unlike Maryland's legislature, Virginia's General Assembly keeps an extremely tight rein on the local governments. There are always a few valiant attempts to win some scraps of home rule -- such as permission to elect local school boards -- but nobody expects any great outbreak of grass-roots democracy in this otherwise ambitious agenda for 1988.