VIRGINIA'S STATE LEGISLATORS, having all but wrapped up their General Assembly session (there's a one-day cleanup session this Saturday), are now issuing explanations for their mediocre legislative record this year. Some point to a lack of leadership from a partisan Republican governor; some cite poor coordination between House and Senate leaders; and still others note. that, what the heck, this was an odd-year, short session from which no one expected all that much.
Check the box marked "all of the above." Except for legislation to resolve the state's city-county annexation issue, this session may be best remembered for what it didn't do. One commendable non-achievement, for example, was the legislature's failure to approve a Virginia version of Proposition 13, though the assembly did end up ordering a study of the issue. Opponents of legislated spending limits may yet be able to protect the state from other ill-advised proposals in the future.
Chief among the unfortunate legislative failures this year was the assembly's refusal to give Northern Virginia permission to shift some of its property-tax burden onto the sales tax and to use some of the proceeds to finance Metro. It may be that the sales-tax approach for Metro is dead, now -- and that the delegations from this part of the state will have to try some other proposal. For example, a statewide surtax on upper-income tax brackets might encounter less resistance in the legislature, since it would affect Northern Virginians the most but would not be limited to one section of the state. At least members from Northern Virginia detect a growing understanding among their colleagues of the tax problems of this area. (The most recent offshoot is that a national bond-rating house has refused to improve Alexandria's bond rating because the city has been unable to get a regular tax source to pay for Metro's operating costs.)
Another disappointment was the assembly's failure to enact bills that would have assisted battered wives, established the concept of marital property in divorce settlements and improved the state's rape and sexual assault laws. Not surprising, but just as disappointing, was the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. And so on. Next year, perhaps, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate will work together better than they did this year. Clearly this is where improvement is essential, for there's no indication yet that Gov. Dalton will give the legislature any sense of direction.