Virginia legislators complained today that lack of leadership from a partisan Republican governor and poor coordination between the House and Senate produced an annual session of mediocre achievements.
Leaders of the General Assembly's Democratic majority said the passive legislative role played by Gov. John N. Dalton was a striking feature of the session. Most assessed it as the result of a 10-year evolution, during which the legislature has become ever more independent.
"I think this is the way it should be," Del. A.L. Philpott (D-Henry), majority leader of the House of Delegates, said in an interview.
"I think the legislature was much too submissive to governors in the past. We won't ever go back to that. It doesn't matter whether the governor is Democratic or Republican, we won't go back."
Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), the Senate majority leader, attributed Dalton's lack of influence over the assembly to party politics.
"The fact that John Dalton is as partisan as he is means that the Democartic majority does not look to him for guidance," Brault said.
"He is available when we ask to see him, but he has not sought us out. I see Republican members trooping in and out of his office, but he doesn't consult us. He met with the minority members on the first day of the session, to review his legislative address, but not with the majority leaders. I don't think that was a good idea."
The small Republican minorities of 22 in the 100-member House and six in the 40-member Senate give the GOP little leverage on legislation, a fact that increases Brault's bewilderment at the governor's apparent decision to ignore Democratic leaders.
The weak relationship between Dalton and the assembly majority, Brault said, was compounded during the session by poor coordination between the two houses of the legislature.
"Communication between the House and Senate leadership has been noexistent," he said, "worse than last year."
Brault clearly misses the close working relationship he had during his first two years as senate leader with former House majority leader James M. Thomson (D-Aexandria). Thomson was defeated in 1977 and was succeeded as mojority leader by Philpott, considered the single most powerful member of the assembly and, by many, its most autocratic leader.
Brault and Philpott could not even agree today on the significance of the assembly's most important legislative act -- a package of three bills expected to resolve years of controversy over annexation of counties by cities.
At the heart of the annexation package is a bill providing increased aid to local governments, beginning with a $150 million infusion of state revenue during the two-year budget period beginning in 1980.
"I regard it as a historic achievement," Brault said. "We've come up with either a permanent solution to city-county relationships and revenue sharing or one that will lead to a permanent solution."
Philpott, however, was skeptical. "It's not significant until we fund it," he said. "You've got to face head-on next year the conflict between the movement to put a spending limit on state government and the promise of all this additional state aid to local governments. How are you going to resolve those two things?"
Most, but not all Northern Virginia legislators were pleased that the Washington suburbs achieved two of three major legislative goals.
The assembly approved acquisition of the International School of Law in Arlington by George Mason University and guaranteed state backing of revenue bonds to build a commuter toll road between the Capitol Beltway and Dulles International Airport. Once again, however, the legislature turned down Northern Virginia's bid for a sales tax increase to finance Metro operating costs.
"It was really a pretty bad session when you consider that we lost the Metro tax and got the toll road," Del. Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington) said. Marshall and other Arlington legislators fear the Dulles road will overload Interstate Rte. 66, the new freeway now being built in Arlington over the objections of county officials.
"The governor displayed a genuine hostility to Northern Virginia by opposing the Metro tax and supporting the toll road," Marshall said.
Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), who led the unsuccessful fight in the House for the Senate-passed Metro tax, said Northern Virginians will have to come back again with a fresh proposal.
Despite the 10-to-8 defeat of the sales tax in the House Finance Committee, Stambaugh said, "there is a recognition down here of our problem with Metro financing and some indications of a little willingness to accept our solutions. We will have to come up with something different next year."