MONEY MAY BE short in Annapolis, but consider Richmond, where time, too, will be far shorter for the state lawmakers to do something once they convene today. Not only is the legislative calendar abbreviated in the odd years, but the ability to rearrange a two-year budget at midpoint is somewhat limited as well. Only the options remain similarly grim in the face of dismal fiscal facts: higher taxes and fees, deeper budget cuts, stiffer treatment of local money requests, or all of these. Gov. Robb says that for now, it will be cuts, accompanied by stepped up prayers for recovery.
And just as Maryland's House Speaker Cardin sees unprecedented financial pressures in his state, so, too, does Adelard L. Brault, dean of Northern Virginia's delegation to Richmond: "Never before in modern times has a Virginia General Assembly been faced with such a problem," he wrote, noting that, in addition to a short session, the participants have unusual political considerations this year. Members of the house are fresh from election, but face another one come fall. Financial bravery may be in short supply as well.
As a result, don't expect the best medicine to be in supply at all: a revamping of the state income tax to make it more progressive, not to mention more lucrative for the state. The traditional response, whether in Annapolis or Richmond, is always that "this year isn't a good time"--and that is the reply in Richmond. In addition to their campaigns, many of the lawmakers cite the difficulty of making any significant increases in taxes during times of recession.
Whatever the consequences on other legislative efforts, there is one traditional caution worth repeating for whatever benefit it may yield for the people of Northern Virginia: as the delegates and state senators from this area have learned the hard way, in battles for Metro money over the years, consensus and unity are essential on any mission to Richmond. Given this year's promise of regional scrambles for the money, members of the Northern Virginia delegation had best keep their legislative act together.