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Blog: The Hill: Washington can learn a lot from Richmond


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By Gerry Connolly

In recent years, Virginia's General Assembly has not distinguished itself as a serious or effective bipartisan legislature. In fact, the venerable reputation of the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere has devolved into something of a joke.

The sometimes stunning antics of the Republican-dominated General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell have provided plenty of comedic fodder for Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and their late night counterparts.

Who can forget Virginia's war on women, or the notorious "trans-vaginal probe" legislation? What about the new Virginia law to shut down abortion clinics by altering building code requirements, or the legislation opposing the United Nations and its "radical" sustainable development program? Other gems included legislation rolling back voting rights and a bill requiring Virginia to mint its own currency.

Then there is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's unique approach to his job. His efforts to interfere with climate change science at the University of Virginia and his extortion-like tactics to force the Virginia Board of Health to reverse its vote on medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's health clinics are but two of the many actions by the Republican attorney general which earned the Commonwealth dubious late night fame.

Meanwhile Northern Virginia, the economic engine of the Commonwealth, is strangled by ever-increasing traffic congestion and crumbling infrastructure. Despite having the worst traffic in the nation, neither the Governor nor the General Assembly could agree on funding desperate transportation needs.

But then, in late February during the final days of the General Assembly's 2013 session, Republicans and Democrats, supported by the unlikely alliance of the Republican governor, the Republican lieutenant governor, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, and the Senate Democratic leader, reached an unprecedented agreement to produce $850 million in new revenue for transportation. And they did so despite Republican Cuccinelli's objections and threats of legal action to derail the plan.

The Republicans who dominate the Virginia House of Delegates are definitely not known as RINOs, but even they realized something had to be done to end 27 years of intransigence on transportation in the General Assembly.

Both sides reached across the aisle. To the surprise of many, these conservative Republicans agreed to increase half-a-dozen taxes and fees and establish two new taxing authorities in the economic engines of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Meanwhile, Democrats had to swallow hard and dedicate money for transportation from the state's General Fund that would been spent on other important programs.

There was no sugarcoating this. They had to do it. For a lot of Virginia legislators, it was a hold your nose vote, particularly in an election year where all 100 members of Virginia's House of Delegates are facing reelection. They realized they could no longer kick the can down the road, not with crumbling infrastructure including more than 1,700 bridges deemed structurally deficient.

Like most compromises, the transportation plan is far from perfect, but it provides much-needed and long-overdue funding to help Virginia cope with a shortfall that could have brought our economy to its knees.
We in Congress can learn from Virginia's model. We need to put political orthodoxy aside, show bipartisan leadership, and put sound fiscal policy above partisan ideology.

Congress failed the American people by not addressing sequestration before the March 1 deadline. It had ample time to fix what it had wrought, but instead chose to vacillate for months and reinforce the opinion of many Americans that it is dysfunctional.

My colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle can still cast aside their political considerations and seek a balanced approach to sequestration, like Virginia did.

Raise new revenue and cut spending using scalpels, rather than meat-axes, just like their counterparts in Virginia did. Seek middle ground, like Virginia did. Work for real bipartisan compromise that includes responsible spending cuts, closes unnecessary tax loopholes, and provides reasonable revenues.

If a partisan-divided legislature like that in Richmond can do it in the Old Dominion, surely there is hope for us in Washington.

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