Virginia General Assembly opens
Governor Mark Warner's "State of the Commonwealth" speech to the opening session of the Virginia General Assembly last week made a strong plea for bipartisan cooperation. The Democratic governor, an outsider who became a millionaire in the cell phone business, has shown himself to be more politically savvy than most people would have guessed. Early last year, it looked like the Republican majority in Richmond was going to have their way, but he outmaneuvered them and threatened a government shutdown until moderate Republicans relented, handing him a big victory. Having solid credentials as a businessman and as a "moderate southerner," Warner is often touted as a leading candidate for the vice presidential ticket in 2008, which may explain his present amicable posture.
State Senator Emmitt Hanger was one of the two legislators chosen to give the Republican response, and spoke very eloquently. He responded positively to Warner's offer, but cast doubt on the long-term budget projections, comparing them to early afternoon exit polls on November 2. (Ha!) Hanger took some heat from his own party for deciding to compromise with Warner and the Democrats during the big budget showdown in Richmond last June, when it appeared that the Commonwealth was in much bigger fiscal trouble than it in fact is. Since fiscal responsibility is a high priority for me, I agreed with Hanger's position then, and based on what I knew at the time, I would stand by that choice. Was Warner "cooking the books" to scare moderate Republicans into caving in, or was he just lucky that state tax revenues in recent months have outpaced expectations? Either way, "we won't get fooled again!"
The biggest issue in Richmond this year is what to do about the traffic mess on our highways. Interstate 81 is often a dangerous nightmare, with hoards of huge trucks clogging the two lanes much like cholesterol deposits clog a person's arteries. Delegate Ben Cline (R-Lexington) has come up with a solid, balanced long-term plan that aims at widening busy sections of main highways at the "choke points," such as hills, where trucks can't keep up the pace. (One alternative, very costly, would be to widen I-81 to three lanes across the entire state. Of course, that would just invite more truck traffic.) Cline's plan would also provide funds to encourage the use of railroads to haul trailers over long distances, which is an eminently sensible part of the solution. Will the trucking lobby try to stop that? What does the all-powerful Virginia Department of Transportation have to say about rail solutions? Unfortunately, no one seems to want to bite the bullet and raise taxes on gasoline, which is the only sure-fire way to ensure that there are sufficient funds for transportation needs in the long term. That measure, which I have long advocated, is no doubt unpopular in our fair "land of the spoiled," but it would also serve environmental and national security objectives.
Lawyers triumph in Maryland
On the other side of the Potomac River, meanwhile, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Ehrlich's veto of a bill which will address the medical malpractice liability crisis by raising taxes and increasing state regulation. How typical of Democrats to come up with such a complicated scheme to make sure their main constituents (lawyers) keep raking in unjust dollars from bogus lawsuits, and how counterproductive in terms of health care quality! To his credit, Ehrlich stood firm against the bill. It does nothing to correct the fundamental structural imbalance which is behind the soaring cost of medical care nationwide: the absence or virtual absence of any demand-side cost containment by medical consumers who might otherwise be more budget-conscious but don't really care how much their medical bills are because insurance will cover the lion's share of it anyway. As long as employer contributions to health insurance premiums are not counted as taxable income, this implicit state subsidy will perpetuate the gap between what a person thinks he or she is paying for medical services, and what the full cost really is. This defeat has shaken Governor Ehrlich's already precarious position in Maryland.
More on evolution and theory
Donald Sensing mentioned my blog post on evolution from last Friday: "While it seems that Andrew isn't very clear about what "theory" means, it also seems the judge was a bit whacko in the rationale for his ruling." Since erasing any possible confusion on this vital definition was one of my main objectives, let me reiterate: A theory is "a generalized, testable explanation of how facts relate to each other." Any questions?