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Dump the Politics
Dump the Politics
February 09, 1999
Originally published in The Washington Times
Apparently, lawmakers are heartbroken because they think that only '99.9992 percent of Virginia is left for lovers. The .0008 percent is for trash — at least that's the amount of land that Virginia's landfills consume. These landfills take trash from around the nation, and recently New York City announced that it will increase trash imports to Virginia.
With Valentine's Day around the darner, many 'fear that New York's news will hurt tourism. Accordingly, Virginia lawmakers are cooking up "schemes to reign in 'free enterprise in the waste disposal industry. Apparently more concerned about the state's public image, legislators are ready to inflict whatever pain is necessary on many poor, rural communities in the state, whose very livelihoods depend on the waste disposal business.
The U.S. Constitution protects interstate trade because its drafters understood the benefits of free trade. They wanted to prevent state lawmakers, caught up in heated interstate disputes such as this one, from passing foolish protectionist policies. In fact, Virginia residents have benefited tremendously from free trade. Free enterprise in the waste-disposal business has enabled many communities to cut taxes, give pay raises to teachers, build schools and 'courthouses, as well as close and clean up old, substandard landfills.
Should these communities lose income from landfills, they won't be able to deal with future needs —at least not without raising taxes. Yet lawmakers — apparently more concerned about doing something than doing the right thing — have proposed a series of paternalistic proposals that will harm state residents.
Gov. Gilmore's top choice appears to be his ban on garbage barges. But one can only wonder what he is thinking. With that proposal, we can expect more highway fatalities, more pollution, and more traffic as trucks travel hundreds of miles from New York to Virginia. At least that's what a 1994 U.S. Department of Transportation study on barges found. A representative from the U.S. Coast Guard made similar observations during a recent hearing before the legislature, explaining how incredibly safe barges truly are. But will the governor and state legislators listen?
The governor's other proposals would cap the amount of waste that landfills could take on a daily basis and would limit landfills' ability to expand. These regulations represent little more than a hidden tax. Limiting communities' ability to collect host fees could force localities to raise taxes to meet future needs.
While the governor does not mind hidden taxes, he says he opposes direct taxes on landfill tipping fees.. Yet the bill that reaches his desk may include a direct tax, if Mr. Gilmore's supposed anti-tax Republican friends have their way. One proposal (S. 865), offered by Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Augusta Republican, would impose this tax and use the revenue for a variety of government programs and pork as well as to impose a host of new bureaucratic regulations on new landfills. Some of the money would go to help localities close and clean old landfills.
But lawmakers are dreaming up other, more politically popular, ways to spend the revenues, specifying in the bill that the state may spend the revenues on parks, land acquisition for open space purposes, and preservation programs. These provisions indicate that lawmakers are less serious about using the money for cleaning and closing old landfills than for bringing home the bacon. Republican legislators who say they respect private property and limited government should be concerned about these new spending items, particularly land acquisition to. create open space. This desire among legislators to control sprawl represents a growing trend in government land-use regulation.
But what about the environment? It is clear that, everyone involved wants to ensure public safety—particularly the people who live near the landfills. If lawmakers are so hard pressed to do something to protect the environment, they might want to look at the double standard that they tolerate for many of the state's government-owned landfills. Currently, the state has 30 landfills that don't meet federal standards. Of those 26 are government-owned and operated.
Where environmental concerns exist regarding odors or litter; localities can deal with each situation using local nuisance and trespass laws. In comparison, none of the proposed policies before the legislature would do anything in this regard. Rather each promises simply to increase bureaucracy, raise taxes and limit freedom.
In the end, poor, rural Virginians are the ones going to pay the high• est price for lawmakers' shortsighted political posturing. Environmental quality will likely suffer as more trucks hit the highways and as communities have fewer resources to meet environmental concerns and other needs. And as for tourism and good public relations, state lawmakers have created that problem with their own silly rhetoric. The solution to that problem is simple: Lawmakers should put an end to their trashy rhetoric.