WHO LOVES YA, BABY?: Virginia is for lovers — especially lovers of red lights and big breaks for Hollywood.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — “Virginia is for lovers,” as the 45-year-old advertising slogan goes.
While it may be the place for romance, the Old Dominion is also the place for lovers of things like red-light cameras and big tax breaks for Hollywood.
What do many Virginia politicians love? Let me count the ways.
6. Point out how Richmond is better run than Washington
It’s true that thankfully, Virginia is in much better fiscal shape than her federal neighbor to the north. State leaders deserve some credit for balancing the budget and keeping the rainy day fund alive.
But unfunded public pensions obligations in particular threaten the fiscal health of localities and the state on the whole. The state’s own top auditor said that was the greatest fiscal challenge facing the commonwealth at the beginning of 2013. Experts say more reforms are needed to get the house in order.
5. Benefit from Washington’s jobs and dollars
Virginia lawmakers disparage the district to the north of the Potomac River — and according to Gallup polling, so do most Americans.
Nevertheless, Virginia is heavily reliant on Washington jobs and funds. Roughly 30 percent of the commonwealth’s jobs are either directly or indirectly supported through the federal government, second only to New Mexico’s roughly 32 percent. Constituents in Virginia benefit tremendously from that. Defense-related contracts and the continued growth of the federal government kept Virginia afloat during the Great Recession, particularly in Northern Virginia. Without end, Gov. Bob McDonnell often took credit for the state’s lower-than-national unemployment rate.
Researchers at George Mason’s Mercatus Center have pointed out that without Northern Virginia’s D.C.-fueled boom the rest of the state would be no better off than the rest of the country in terms of unemployment. If the nation’s ever-climbing national debt means cuts in the future, Virginia will be hit hard.
4. Highlight Virginia’s positive business rankings — and ignore the mediocre ones
Virginia lawmakers are quick to point to Forbes’ recent ranking of Virginia as the best place in the country to do business.
They’re less likely to point out other, less favorable rankings, like the Tax Foundation’s 2013 business ranking at 26th. Tax increases from the historic 2013 transportation bill, Virginia’s onerous business, professional and occupational license taxes and the Old Dominion’s archaic income tax structure are to blame, according to the Tax Foundation.
3. Give small businesses an extra nudge
Virginia is all about business, and sometimes that means picking and choosing certain businesses over others. The Virginia Tourism Corporation hands out matching money to support businesses — like $5,000 for destination weddings and overnights in Damascus in 2013. Last year, the VTC also handed out $3,500 for the “Allegheny Highlands Outdoor Lovers Video” project.
2. Hand big breaks to big business — like Hollywood
It isn’t just small businesses that get a hand up — or a hand out — at taxpayers’ expense. Virginia is one step closer to boosting its tax breaks available to the film industry by 400 percent. The Old Dominion already offers up to $5 million every two years in tax credits for some films made in-state, and Virginia’s House of Delegates recently voted to bump that up to $25 million every two years. The breaks started in 2010 to attract the film “Lincoln,” helping McDonnell get a nice lunch with the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg.
1. Keep an eye on you with ever-watchful red-light cameras
Red-light cameras aren’t exactly popular among Virginians. As Watchdog.org has revealed, it’s all too easy for a city like Virginia Beach to abuse their use and boost revenues by illegally shortening yellow lights. But no matter — Virginia’s House Transportation Committee defeated a bill this session that would have prohibited using such photo monitoring in the commonwealth. The cameras are here to stay, at least, for another year.
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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