WITH ONLY 46 days in which to do the legislative business of the Old Dominion for 1985, Virginia's state lawmakers succeeded in compressing more than the usual sectional acrimony and significant accomplishments into a hectic but highly productive show. Best of all, Northern Virginia's team managed a rare burst of unity and savvy politicking to bring home the bacon: millions of new dollars for the roads that this region desperately needs to build and repair.
Some of the battle-weary lawmakers were disappointed at the inability of the legislature to resolve differences over an abortion measure and over who should win a seat on the State Corporation Commission, which regulates banks, utilities, insurance companies and other businesses -- but you could argue that both questions were best left alone. Gov. Charles Robb, who was granted most of his legislative wishes, can pick somebody for the commission, and the election-bound politicians can talk about issues other than abortion.
In another politically wise omission, the Democrats voted not to fill a Richmond judgeship that the wife of one of their House members was seeking -- an issue that had drawn sharp charges from Republicans of backroom politics.
One pleasant difference in Richmond this year was that there was some money to be spread around. The legislature approved nearly $300 million in new spending for education, health, welfare, prison security and long overdue state employee pay raises. For Northern Virginia, the booty includes new money for Dulles International Airport, communty colleges and many other regional projects.
The big question left for next year is how permanent and effective is the urban/suburban coalition that worked well for a sound highway-money allocation this year. Those rurallawmakers who are least happy with the highway measure have vowed revenge in '86, and have their sights set on the state money that goes into the Metrorail system. Without the continued understanding of lawmakers from other parts of the state and without Gov. Robb in office, Northern Virginia's delegation may be put to a far tougher test than it was this year.
But it is much too early to start selling any legislators short when it comes to recognizing the issues of their state as a whole rather than by addressing them provincially. That's not easy, given the strong concentration of powers in Richmond and the constant screaming of local governments for more home rule. But for now, at least, Virginia's state legislators can point to a generally responsible and sophisticated legislative performance.