Watching paint dry

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Bernie Niemeier

Since joining Virginia Business 16 months ago, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time observing the progress of Virginia’s General Assembly.

The recent sessions were most visibly marked by the completion of the Capitol’s expansion and renovation.  However, the phrase “Watching paint dry”  is more aptly used to describe the legislature’s progress on major issues.

Being a business person, I’d like to see progress.  Take transportation as an example.  Prior to 2007, there had already been 20 years of inaction.

Angst-ridden HB 3202 on transportation passed last year with imperfections, not the least of which turned out to be an unconstitutional funding mechanism.

The problem was obvious enough to be overturned unanimously by the state Supreme Court.  Presumably, this should have been fixed earlier in the process.  In any event, we’re still waiting for action on transportation.

Another observation is that issues backed by lobbyists seem to have a better likelihood of making it to a vote.  Payday lending regulations aren’t nearly as important as transportation funding, but they probably saw an equal amount of time on the floor.

Other bills are sidelined by small subcommittees, sometimes just a handful of people.  SB 38, which would establish a non-partisan committee to oversee redistricting, met such a fate. After being passed by the Senate, the bill was relegated to a House subcommittee.

In days past, being conservative largely meant being fiscally conservative.  Campaign phrases like “No new taxes” have now been elevated to the realm of social conservatism, more similar to voting for the right to life than sound economic policy.

Virginia is a top-rated business state, but we will not stay in this position without investments in infrastructure.  Effective state government requires that partisan politics and regionalism be overcome.

Collaborative thinking is a fairly common characteristic among successful business leaders.  The commonwealth has many gifted individual legislators.  After all, Virginia is the mother of the presidents.

What is lacking is consensus on major issues.  Moving forward will require collaboration and the ability to let the common good supersede campaign politics and party-centric thinking. In the meantime, it’s a lit­tle like watching paint dry.

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