TODAY THE STATE legislators converge on Richmond for a scramble over what looks to be a lean Virginia-cured pork barrel. The idea of the game will be to win friends and influence appropriations, and that could produce some intriguing new regional alliances. As the Senate's new majority leader, Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), notes, the General Assembly will be concentrating on two questions: "What money do we have, and where's it going to be spent?" For starters, and of intense importance to all parts of the state, there is Gov. John N. Dalton's desire to improve -- make that read: raise money and spend it on -- transportation.
The governor had decided that the best way to raise the money would be with a 4 percent sales tax on wholesale gasoline prices. To his credit, Mr. Dalton is apparently ready to link this tax increase to financing for Metro construction. That would be a dramatic change in the state's attitude toward Northern Virginia's transportation needs. It also could pave the way for members of the Northern Virginia Delegation to support the efforts of legislators from other parts of the state who will be seeking money for highways. In exchange, Northern Virginia should seek support from the governor and the legislature for permission to raise local taxes to cover Metro operating expenses, the meet its commitment to the federal government of a "stable and reliable source of revenue" for the system.
These are the kinds of logical alliances that should be forming in the General Assemlby, were Northern Virginia has tended to be treated more like a foreign nation that a region of the state that happens to provide nearly a third of the revenues collected from Virginia's localities -- and almost a fifth of the legislature's membership. Though Northern Virginia has lost several important leadership positions in the General Assembly, the state's transportation dilemma affords a perfect opportunity for imaginative and sensible leadership by Gov. Dalton as well as useful new coalitions in the Senate and House of Delegates.