The Rise and Fall of Regionalism

A recurring strain of Virginia politics is the rivalry between competing regions in the state.  In the 19th century, this rivalry played out between the plantation economy east of the Blue Ridge and the free-labor counties in western Virginia.  Then the American Civil War led to the secession and ultimate creation of West Virginia. 

The 20th century saw the rise of two sister regions:  Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.  The rise was fueled by the expanding Federal influence in Virginia, e.g. the Pentagon in Arlington and the Naval Base in Norfolk.  In each case, the dynamic growth brought in millions of new Virginians born outside the its borders. 

Having grown up in Northern Virginia, you learn the constant rivalry with the rest of the Commonwealth, especially if you attend a Virginia university.  Nothing wrong there.   Nor is it wrong to engage in that competition, whether on the football field or the floor of the State Capitol.

What has been new in the past few years is the idea that Northern Virginia can become a ”separate state” with its own distinct regional taxing powers.  A quasi-state if you will.  That idea appeals on one level, but it is an eventual dead-end for three reasons:

First, Northern Virginia itself is not a monolith.  Each locality is a separate and distinct organism with different goals and a different demographic.   If  you don’t believe me, try visiting Clarendon and downtown Manassas on consecutive weekends.  Let me know if you see any of the same people.   You won’t.  Nor will you convince these independent-minded citizens that an unelected regional body should set their public policy. 

Second, Northern Virginia cannot be bounded.  In my youth, it was everything north of the Occoquan River.  Now, it’s everything north of the Rappahannock River.  In twenty years, it may be everything north of the James River.  In other words, it is the exception becoming the rule.  And all these Virginians use the road and rail network along the 66/95 corridor. 

Third, the tax ”remedies” that are proposed for Northern Virginia do not grant independence from existing state obligations.  Rather they are a supplement so that Northern Virginians attain the same benefit (adequate roads) that others already receive from their state tax dollar. 

Transportation is a state obligation.  It should be funded and solved by the state government.  Regionalism is fine for high school sports.  It is not a solution for a 21st century transportation  network. 


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