FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY that reconvenes in Richmond today, it will be hail-and-farewell to Gov. Mills E. Godwin, who retires from public life this Saturday. Yet even with a shift to a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general -- not to mention some significant changes in the legislature's leadership -- there's little likelihood that the state's near-tradition of gentle political transitions will be overturned. No one really knows just how the relationship between the new governor, John N. Dalton, and the legislature, with its new faces, will develop; but few armchair analysts in the capitol expect any monumental executive-legislative clashes this time around.
As usual, the 1978 edition of leading legislative issues in Richmond is pretty much last year's list. A central topic this year, of course, will be the biennial budget. Legislators seem agreed that there's no need to raise tax rates this year, since Mr. Godwin wound up his fiscally bumpy term by reporting a surplus.
Nevertheless, as members of Northern Virginia's delegation in particular have been emphasizing, there is strong constituent pressure for some lifting of the property-tax burden -- which could be aided by turning to some form of regional tax to help pay for the Metro system. Though the lawmakers may not agree on a gasoline tax as the best vehicle, Northern Virginia's representatives in Richmond will have failed, in our view, if they do not manage to reach a consensus and lobby hard for a tax that can become part of a Virginia-Maryland-District regional effort to provide sound financing for Metro.
One of the longer-running issues in search of proper resolution is ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The House of Delegates has never even had a floor vote on this proposed constitutional amendment. The priveleges and election committee ought to report the measure out to the floor, and if it takes a change in the rules to force this step, so be it.
Among new proposals that we await with interest is a comprehensive and apparently far-reaching measure that has been prepared by J. Marshall Coleman, the incoming attorney general, that would establish uniform sentencing for criminals and abolish the parole system.
Despite the fact that the Assembly will remain overwhelmingly Democratic, the opportunity to exert noticeable leadership could rest with Mr. Dalton, the Republican governor. Already, he has signaled that some proposals are forthcoming, including a new energy program that would shift utility management functions from the State Corporation Commission to the executive branch. The governor also has talked about a comprehensive water plan for the state.
By capitalizing on his considerable knowledge of the personalities, politics and traditions of his state, John Dalton could indeed generate a constructive legislative session in his initial year as Virginia's chief executive.