Sunday, January 28, 2007

Good For Them, Bad For Us

[The following article originally appeared in the Roanoke Times on December 17, 2006]

What’s Good For Them Is Bad for Us
By Jerry Fuhrman

I read with dismay in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday that Governor Kaine intends to propose another series of tax increases next year in order to fix the roads up north.

It’s dismaying for two reasons: (1) the state is already so awash in cash that it is incapable of spending it fast enough and (2) the transportation issue is, by and large, a Northern Virginia issue, one that, in its being solved through higher taxes, will have an adverse effect on this area. While Northern Virginia gains nice roads, Southwest Virginia loses more jobs.

Up north, the issues of the day revolve around businesses being stacked atop one another. Smart growth (sometimes called growth management or land management), and mass transit, along with alternative fuels, are the primary topics of discussion.

Here in Southwest Virginia, our most pressing issues relate to employers and how we might gain a few. And to hold on to the few we have. We talk here of improving the quality of a woefully inadequate public education system. And of improving the quality of the drinking water. In Southwest Virginia - in 2006 – we talk about putting sewer systems into communities that have never had them.

It’s not that we don’t have our own transportation wish list. There is certainly discussion in some circles about the necessary completion of the Coalfields Expressway and about much-needed improvements to U.S. 58. Then there’s the ongoing debate about I-81 from Roanoke to Wytheville and whether it needs to be upgraded, or converted into some kind of traffic-congesting toll road.

That's all, in the big scheme of things, probably important. But generally, transportation issues aren't uppermost in the thoughts and discussions of folks around here.

What’s uppermost? Paychecks. Food. Clothing. Shelter. The kinds of things taken for granted in the fabulously prosperous north. We think about our small communities like Chilhowie and Galax and the Narrows being decimated by the loss of thousands of jobs in recent years.

What we need in order to solve our job-loss problems are employers, pure and simple. What we don’t need are more taxes adding to an already heavy burden being carried by those who provide us with an ever-dwindling number of jobs.

A message for state Senators Phil Puckett and Roscoe Reynolds, both of whom can be called upon to loyally carry the Democratic Party’s water when it’s time to vote in favor of another tax hike to solve transportation issues that are, overwhelmingly, northern Virginia issues: Your allegiance is not to Fairfax or Alexandria. You owe it to your constituents here to vote in their best interests. In fact, it goes beyond that. Your votes in favor of tax hikes do considerable damage to those who are most in need of your help.

There are those who argue that we shouldn’t be trying to pound a wedge between north and south; that we’re all ultimately in this together. Really? It’s fair to suggest that higher taxes will drive more Southwest Virginia employers out of business and our governor and most state legislators are arguing in favor of raising them and raising them again. We are all in this together to benefit whom?

We’re going to raise taxes here to pay a quarter of a billion dollars to construct a tunnel for a small stretch of rail line from Tyson’s Corner to Dulles airport (that amount is just to run it underground; the four-mile railroad extension project will cost $4 billion in its entirety) so as to not affect property values and to preserve Tyson’s scenic ambience?

We’re willing to vote people out of work in Saltville and Pulaski and Hillsville for that?

People in the state’s poorest county, Lee, are going to pay for a tunnel in Fairfax County, the state’s wealthiest, so people don’t have to look upon an unsightly train track when they stroll over to Starbuck’s for their daily Venti Peppermint Java Chip Frappuccino?

I don’t think so.

It’s time our elected representatives were on our side. That means voting to create jobs. And that is accomplished, in part, by reducing the tax burden on Southwest Virginia’s employers.

Folks up north want their roads repaired? Ain’t nobody stopping them.