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The big picture obscures other important details as well. Take transportation. Because the state’s gasoline tax is not pegged to inflation, it has lost nearly half the value it had when it was adopted in 1986. Add rising fuel efficiency to the mix, and the result is the situation Virginia faces today: almost no money for road construction and precious little for maintenance. Virginia’s political class seems incapable of doing what it should to address the problem: Raise the tax—it’s basically a user fee, after all—peg it to inflation, and stop subsidizing sprawl. With no money and no spine, state leaders might pass the buck by turning maintenance of secondary roadways—like the Franconia-Springfield Parkway in Fairfax or Robious Road in Chesterfield—over to the counties.
Meanwhile, McDonnell’s government-reform commission has done little but tinker around the edges. Consolidating agencies, cutting down on unnecessary printing, and eliminating a few obscure boards (the Hemophilia Advisory Board, for instance) are all worth doing. But they will save an underwhelming $2 million. The General Fund has grown 500 times that much in just one year.
That growth is cold comfort if you’re a teacher who has been let go because health care is sucking in money like a giant black hole. Ditto if you’re one of the dozens of state workers facing possible layoffs from proposed agency cuts.
But if you’re just an average citizen, it’s still worth stepping back to see the big picture: Despite budget cuts the likes of which Virginia hasn’t seen in decades, state government as a whole just keeps getting bigger.
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.