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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Gentlemen, start your checkbooks

The Winchester Star is out of the gate this morning with a preview of the upcoming General Assembly session. As expected, much of the focus will be on transportation, but Republican legislators should be careful not to fall into the "surplus" spending trap. Now that Gov. Warner and the Renegade 17 have seen fit to jack up the tax burden on all hard-working Virginians, we must in return demand fiscal responsibility on the part of our legislators. Indeed, it is our money they are spending in Richmond, not theirs.

Governor Warner has also released his proposed budget amendments for the new session that focus primarily on, surprise, transportation. Besides increased funding for a host of projects, Warner has also proposed reducing the tax on groceries and setting aside $229 million for the "rainy day fund." While Jerry Kilgore and other Republicans have voiced general support for Warner's amendments, we must remember that this is only a starting point, and once the session begins in earnest, things could get nasty pretty quick.

In terms of the transportation debate, while anyone who has lived in Tidewater and Northern Virginia understands the massive transportation issues facing those regions, it is important that the rest of the state not be left out in the cold on this issue. That doesn't mean that legislators should push needless funding for pet projects, but rather that Southwest Virginia, the Valley, and Southside should have a seat at the table and a fair shake in negotiations over a comprehensive transportation policy. The widening of I-81, improvement and upgrade of railroads, and expansion of air service are all things that can help encourage growth in these regions. They are also projects that private industry can aid in completing more quickly and less expensively that the government can by itself. Such steps are necessary, not simply to address short-term problems, but also to craft long-term solutions to the the Commonwealth's transportation needs.

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