By Peter Galuszka
Old Dominion politicians and economic boosters love to tout the state’s typically high ranking in various surveys of the “best states to do business.” But the latest such ranking, by CNBC, shows Virginia dropping from first place to third.
One reason is roads. “Infrastructure – specifically the state’s perpetually clogged highways – has long been an issue in fast-growing Virginia, and there’s fresh evidence this year that the state is having trouble keeping pace,” CNBC says. Virginia dropped from 10th to 33rd place in this category.
The other big problem is that Virginia, a traditional big government state that enjoyed billions in federal defense spending after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, faces a major cut in such spending.
That’s especially curious since cutting government spending which so benefits Virginia is the political cry of every GOP politician and libertarian, including the Big Blogger himself. It is terribly amusing how they campaign against the Big Deficit yet tout every friendly survey that paints Virginia as “pro-business,” often without recognizing why it is so.
Personally, I don’t take too these surveys all that seriously. It may be useful to know who generally ranks in the top, the middle and the bottom and why. But having worked as a staffer or freelancer for such major business publications as BusinessWeek, Fortune Small Business and some of Forbes’ outlets I know first-hand how hit-or-miss the data and reporting for such rankings can be.
Nonetheless, there are takeaways. The CNBC survey is not good news for Robert F. McDonnell, our photogenic governor who basks in the GOP Republican spotlight as the convention approaches. While it is true that McDonnell has made more funding available for highways, he also spends too much time on complex and controversial projects that large municipalities don’t want such as expanding U.S. 460.
The effort and money would be better spent ending traffic jams on the Beltway in Northern Virginia, the state’s real economic engine, and unsnarling bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads. A simple solution is raising the state’s ridiculously low gasoline tax, but that’s anathema for tax-averse Republicans.
Another distraction confronts McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill “The Jobs Guy” Bolling, who is being set up by the state’s Republican establishment to run against maverick Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli in the next gubernatorial race. Both could have spent more time preparing the state for all-important federal jobs cuts. Instead, McDonnell has squandered precious time on his offbeat idea to turn Virginia into the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”
He’s pushed offshore drilling in the wake of Deepwater Horizon, nuclear power after Fukushima and North Anna earthquakes and coal after the deadly Upper Big Branch disaster that has been blamed squarely on Massey Energy, a coal operator formerly headquartered in Richmond. He’s getting nowhere on any of these fronts.
If CNBC’s rating trend keeps up, it will only benefit former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine who is running for U.S. Senate against George Allen, a perennial GOP favorite. Allen, who had also been a governor and a U.S. Senator before the “macaca” moment has spent some of his recent years as an energy lobbyist. Oh, forgive me, I meant “political consultant.” Sorry, George.
For ordinary Virginians such as me, the problems remain although I was very lucky yesterday. I needed to take someone to Baltimore Washington International Airport yesterday. It was an unusually quick trip. As we turned off the George Washington Memorial Parkway and headed east into Maryland, the Beltway traffic was backed up for five miles going into the Old Dominion. My prayers had been answered.