Getting a voice in Richmond

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, March 4, 2010

As negotiators from the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate meet this week in Richmond to hammer out a compromise budget proposal that will be sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell, local governments and School Boards across the commonwealth are moving along with their own annual budget-development process, even while they are holding their collective breath over the amount of help they will get from the state in meeting their needs.

With Virginians still reeling from a recession that has cost them jobs, earning power, homes and retirement savings, local and state tax coffers across the state will fall far short of historic levels, leaving elected officials at every level to find ways to save money and balance their budgets. Worried leaders of education and arts organizations — along with others who fear losing funding for their particular programs — already have begun predicting nightmare scenarios as a result of the cuts they fear.

Indeed, the budget situation this year is about as bad as it has ever been in modern memory, as just about any family can confirm.

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In the face of such real worries, Suffolk citizens can take some solace in the knowledge that they have a champion on the joint legislative committee working to draft the budget compromise. Suffolk’s own Chris Jones, the Republican delegate for the 76th District, is the only member of the Hampton Roads delegation to be asked to serve on that committee.

While Jones’ character would seem to preclude the likelihood of his using the budget-reconciliation post in a transparent bid to win votes by securing pork for his district, citizens of Suffolk and of Hampton Roads in general should be encouraged to know that the same strength of character will be put into the service of protecting them from being completely ignored in any budget compromise that is written.

The state of roads funding in Virginia — where most of the transportation money raised through taxes on containers moving through the ports is sent to other parts of the state, instead of being used to repair and improve the roads around the ports — is a great example of why Hampton Roads needs a voice on such an important committee. The area cannot afford to be ignored during this process.

With a little luck, Jones will be able to take advantage of both the power and goodwill he has built during his service in the General Assembly to make sure the voice of Hampton Roads is heard above the Richmond din.