May 15, 2006
For once I have to agree with the editorial in today's Staunton News Leader, questioning the refusal by the Augusta County Board of Supervisors to release any information about a $440,000 study on industrial development. (They ran another editorial on the same topic on Friday.) Although not mentioned in either one, it is rumored that Toyota is considering building a massive new automobile assembly plant in the Weyer's Cave area, between Staunton and Harrisonburg. It is feared that any disclosure of the (apparent) ongoing negotiations would scare the prospective investors away, and the state's Freedom of Information Act may be invoked. Lack of sufficient water supplies for a large factory is one reason for hesitation on this plan. Supervisors Kay Frye (Republican) and Nancy Sorrells were the only board members who voted to release some of the report. It is very interesting that gender, not party affiliation, seems to be the deciding factor in this controversy; the other five board members are men, and three of them are Republicans. People in this area are certainly eager to attract new businesses, but something as big as an auto plant would radically alter the character of the scenic Shenandoah Valley. A recent letter to the editor in the News Leader asked why not simply refurbish the auto plant in the Norfolk metropolitan area that Ford is about to shut down. Indeed, why not? Big corporations are used to getting their way with local governments who are willing to cut legal corners and pass special provisions and exemptions from taxes or regulations so as to attract industrial development, and I hope that is not the case here. If the Augusta County Board does decide to go ahead with this project, I hope they at least make sure that environmental concerns are fully addressed, and that the taxpayers not be burdened with any infrastructure costs associated with the new development.
Well, what else is new? Today's Washington Post has yet another story on the struggle between Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly, as the budget showdown heads toward another climax, just like two years ago. Apparently some of the party leaders are waking up to the possibility that they may lose seats in one or both houses if they can't convince the voters that they can legislate in a coherent and responsible fashion. The article quotes state Sen. Emmet Hanger, who represents Augusta County and surrounding areas, as saying "if we don't sort it out in a timely manner, we won't remain the majority party." He tends to be a moderate on some issues, and was heavily criticized by some Republicans for voting on the compromise measure in 2004 that resulted in a big tax hike, but I was pleased to learn that he is trying to convince his colleagues not to raise taxes this time around. Even though the state is currently running a surplus, Governor Kaine and many Republicans in the state Senate, including John Chichester, insist that future desire transportation projects necessitate a steady, rising stream of general fund revenues. Baloney! Anyone who thinks that new highways are needed should pay for it with their own money, whether by tolls, fuel taxes, or other user fees. The Virginia budget is biennial, so this is the last major fiscal policy decision before the next state election campaign. It would be nice if Virginia Republicans could start to act like a reasonably organized -- if not fully unified -- political party.