Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bay Oysters Held Hostage: Virginia Demands Everything For Nothing

artificial reefIt's not something you'd expect to hear from a government run by people who claim to be fiscal conservatives: Virginia is threatening to pull out of oyster restoration work because federal officials won't give free handouts to Virginia businesses.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is objecting to federal rules that say oyster reefs restored with federal money can't be commercially harvested. It's also balking at the $500,000 contribution to receive $2 million in federal oyster reef restoration money.

But those federal rules exist to protect taxpayers. After all, why should public tax dollars be used to subsidize an oyster reef, only to have those oysters turned over to private watermen as a political favor? If Virginia officials want to enrich private businesses with public dollars, why not just save the time & effort and hand tax dollars directly to the watermen? Oh, right - because that would make Gov. Bob McDonnell look like a tax-and-spend socialist. Much better to demand the feds do it for him!

Of course, there are plenty of benefits of healthy oysters besides their commercial value. They'll make new oysters, provide food for other tasty things like crabs, and filter Chesapeake Bay water that's in desperate need of cleaning. So why not chip in the 25% to get a federal windfall?

Despite Gov. Bob McDonnell's claims that Virginia's in the money, Virginia is so short on cash it's basically collecting bottles to return for the deposit:
Lacking cash, the state has been using the value of old oyster shells as its matching share; shells are the building blocks of new reefs.

But the state is running out of oyster shells and already is being forced to mine ancient shells buried within river beds to keep pace with construction needs.
You see, ever since they cut a deal in 2004 with then-governor Mark Warner to raise taxes to fund things like roads & schools and Warner got the credit, Virginia Republicans refuse to raise taxes for any reason ever. Then, thanks in large part to George W. Bush's economic policies, the economy crashed, dramatically reducing tax revenue. Combine the two and, well, Virginia's now literally scraping the bottom of the river.

Forced to pay our bills with oyster shells - and now demanding a free ride because we've run out of even those. Is this any way to run a state? Why won't Gov. McDonnell put aside politics and figure out how to sensibly raise the cash we need to pay our bills?
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