Like their counterparts in Annapolis, members of the Virginia General Assembly will find the financial pastures greener this year and the air more charged with political ambitions and ideas for spending. The main difference is that they will have to act faster in Richmond, because this is the year of the short (46-day) session. And the politicians are running harder, too, because all 100 seats in the house of delegates are up for election -- as well as the top statewide jobs: governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
If there is any general agreement between what Gov. Charles Robb proposed last night and how the legislators respond with money, good things could start to happen. It is generally agreed, for example, that the prisons need help. But beyond that, all sorts of proposals to build or not build, to toughen sentencing, to pay guards more or to shift various prisoners around -- will stir more than a little debate.
The other run for the money in Richmond is of critical concern in Northern Virginia, where roads as well as transit are top items. So far, so good: yesterday a legislative committee recommended sweeping changes in the way the state distributes highway money -- and the new direction would be more toward the urban and suburban areas. But the Northern Virginia delegation's hopes had best not get too high too soon; without strong support from the governor's office and sophisticated alliances in both houses, the whole road-money procedure could degenerate into an old-fashioned rural/urban/suburban battle royal.
But one way or another, Virginia should allocate significant amounts of money to areas where development has outpaced the state's construction of necessary roads.