LIKE THEIR counterparts in Annapolis, the members of Virginia's General Assembly convene today to grapple with financial pressures not felt in years -- but there is one difference: they gather not as recently elected legislators but as politicians about to face elections. They also arrive to a stark scene already set in many ways by the state's current champion of austerity, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. The governor, who will be entering the second year of his term, has been quite busy already, cutting programs and rearranging state financing. The members of the house and senate, gathering for a scheduled 45-day session, have complained about more than a few of Gov. Wilder's budget-cutting actions. But how much they might try to alter or overturn will be a function of political daring and of the legislative clock. Here, even more than in Annapolis, the possibility of increased taxes is low to zero.
Northern Virginia, from where great amounts of these taxes originate, will be looking to its delegation for relief from the heavy hits on aid to local education that Gov. Wilder has ordered -- and some adjustments should be made. But neither the Northern Virginians nor other members of the legislature can predict what else Gov. Wilder -- who is known to enjoy surprises -- may have up his sleeve for this session. At least some clues should be found in the statewide address that Gov. Wilder is scheduled to broadcast tonight.
Virginia, too, is looking at Chesapeake Bay protection issues, but unlike Maryland, where the lawmakers are looking at new measures, the effort in Richmond will be to protect existing measures from challenges by developers and others. Gov. Wilder has said he would veto any bill wrecking what's on the books, and he should make that pledge stick. Measures to increase public safety through protections against quickie sales of handguns also should be strengthened, and the effort here, as in Maryland, will have the support of law enforcement authorities as well as what polls continue to show as strong backing by the voters.
Whatever the sum total of this short session may be, all legislative eyes will be glancing throughout at the next session -- a special session in April to do the every-10-year redistricting that is sure to change the political picture up and down the Commonwealth. That gathering will be of great significance to the residents of Northern Virginia, whose taxes necessarily travel to Richmond faster than any returns on their investments, but whose distinct interests could stand more strength in the congressional delegation as well as in the state capitol in Richmond.