Rural Virginia Must Do A Far Better Job Of Fighting For Its Future

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, May 9, 2013

As our rural communities are left sinking in the small, smaller, and smallest wake of the supposedly historically sweeping transportation funding plan given us by Governor McDonnell and the General Assembly-remembering that Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward are getting nothing new-it is instructive to recall a previous proposal.

One that could be brought forward again some day and would greatly harm rural Virginia.

A study commissioned by Governor McDonnell cited the obvious-that roads are getting insufficient highway funding from the state-and among the possible solutions that study offered is shifting some part of the financial burden for secondary road needs over to localities.

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Oh, sure, fine.

Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward have money coming out of their ears. Local officials simply do not know how to keep up with all the extra cash. Our school systems receive so much funding from Boards of Supervisors that they routinely send gazillions of dollars back to their County coffers every year.

Most of our school systems have a separate music class for each instrument-a symphony of different music classes.

Art classes, similarly, number more than a dozen in each school because there is a different class and teacher for each famous artist and genre of painting.

Don't even get me started on the individual English classes and teachers dedicated to every famous novelist, poet and essayist.

Yes, the state is so very much the friend of our rural counties and residents, especially when it comes to secondary road funds. Not only do we have the best roads in the world but each of us drivers has our own personal lane on every one of those. My own personal lanes are so easy to drive. No potholes anywhere. The shoulders are in such terrific shape they can nearly flex.

Or do I exaggerate ever so slightly?

The state sends us peanut shells for road funding-just look at the great big nothing new we get in the so-called historic transportation funding package.

Peanut shells, not even peanuts. So the state better not ever demand that we feed the elephant.

Though some day the Commonwealth just might.

It is clear why devolution of road responsibility to localities was an option on the table. Urban areas were blowing this ill wind.

“I understand why (it's a possibility),” 60th District House of Delegates member James Edmunds has observed,” because your urban areas can (afford to do so).” This is all about geographic, not party, politics, according to the legislator, who has been outspoken on the rural-urban divide.

“I can promise you…this is not a party issue. Pretty much all of our issues are now geographic in nature and this is a urban versus rural issue,” he explained, “and I see it with Republicans and Democrats, both. I'm at odds with Northern Virginia now more than I ever have been with Democrats because, strictly, their issues are different. And they don't understand us and I don't understand them, quite frankly.

“That's going to be the biggest consideration and,” Del. Edmunds added, “my biggest fear, quite frankly.”

If Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach were to vote together, he warned, “straight together on every issue, they can outvote everybody else.”

Devolution is an apt word to describe this potentially catastrophic road funding plan because rural Virginia would be forced into reverse, instead of evolving forward into the future.

Dropping the gas tax and raising the sales tax isn't likely to provide rural Virginia with any more peanut shells than we're getting now. And the list of projects promoted by Governor McDonnell as he hip-hip-hoorayed the new transportation funding package proves it. Nothing new for us, just what was already coming down the pike.

Rural Virginia gets tread all over by the state once again.

We get nothing and are supposed to like it.

Urban Virginia wants to walk, or drive, all over us, but that doesn't mean we have to lie down for them. Quite the contrary. This bully has got to be confronted.

Rural Virginia must do a better job of standing up for itself, both within and beyond the General Assembly. Forming effective rural coalitions beyond the established entities across the state is an obvious strategy. New voices must be raised, clearly, because if rural Virginia is getting anyone's attention we are being too quickly and too easily dismissed.

The volume needs to be turned up to a level that is uncomfortable for those who would ignore us. Once we have gotten their attention we need to keep them focused on rural Virginia, not to the detriment of urban Virginia but to avoid the sustained detrimental effect on our own localities that seems inevitable if we are unsuccessful.

We must not give our vote to any candidate for statewide office in November without receiving a commitment that once they become governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general they will make rural Virginia an equal object of their affections in state budgets and policies.

And then we must hold them accountable to keep that promise.

Regardless of political party. A partisan victory that paves a future for everyone but rural Virginia is not worth your party loyalty.

Our future needs to be held together by more than bumper stickers saying 'Vote for me.'