Next week the 2012 legislative assembly convenes in Richmond, and the Governor will deliver his State of the Commonwealth Address.
His themes will include the laudable economic performance of the Commonwealth as compared to other states, as well as the responsible fiscal policy and pragmatic management accomplishments of his administration. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though. While there is a certain attraction to a caretaker governing strategy in these troubling macroeconomic times, I do not think it is fair to praise the Governor for fiscal management prowess that is largely a result of revenue “gains” that reflect artificially low revenue estimates used to make up the budget in the first place. The fact is that Virginia’s strong economic performance depends on continued Federal spending in Northern Virginia (BRAC comes to mind), the Tidewater and other locations in the Commonwealth by the Obama administration that Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates so profoundly revile.
The McDonnell administration’s management record seems to be competent, if undistinguished. What is of more concern to me is the matter of policies that he and his allies in the legislature are pursuing. For instance, his record on environmental governance issues is worrying. He has already defunded, and this year is proposing to withdraw Virginia’s membership in the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. He is also proposing withdrawal from the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Compact. These steps seem to be paving the way for unilateral actions by Virginia that affect water and wildlife resources, which are clearly multi-state concerns.
With effective Republican control of the legislature, Virginia seems now to be vulnerable to some of the more egregious “reforms” on the Republican national agenda. Constraints on facilities offering outpatient abortion services enacted last session have been implemented, further limiting access. I believe we will see new Voter ID legislation, and I recently reviewed draft legislation that would increase criminal penalties for providing false information on applications for public assistance AND require convicted offenders to repay three times the value of the benefits obtained.
I will, of course, oppose these sorts of ill-conceived efforts. I will be working with a number of other Delegates who have formed a Progressive Caucus in an attempt to leverage one another’s joint efforts across a wide range of issues.
On at least one important issue-the question of whether or not Virginia will overturn the ban on uranium mining-a bipartisan group of legislators in the House of Delegates and the Senate will be working together. This group intends to ensure that all significant risks to public health, safety and the economy will be fully factored in to the ultimate decision. My Republican colleague, James Edmunds II, Delegate from the 60th District in Southside Virginia, prepared a thoughtful letter to fellow legislators summarizing the case and urging the utmost caution in addressing what he calls “the most important public policy issue for the session.”
His letter is based on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report released in December and on other reports addressing economic and environmental factors. The NAS report details the technical, environmental, health and safety, and regulatory challenges posed by lifting the existing 30-year ban. Though the National Academy team was not asked to make a recommendation, the report concludes that there are “steep hurdles to be surmounted” to mitigate the risks of uranium mining. Delegate Edmunds and four other Southside Republican legislators who signed the letter live and work in the region of the Commonwealth that would be most impacted. Based on the facts presented, they are clearly very skeptical that any potential benefits could outweigh the significant risks that are simply beyond our ability to fully contain.
The 2012 legislative session promises to be hectic and challenging. Although Democrats are now a minority in the legislature, we have an obligation to contribute constructively to the governing process. I am committed to this goal and look forward to hearing from my constituents throughout the session.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.