The Virginia General Assembly’s Moon Shot

In August, the Bristol Herald-Courier published an editorial calling for a “moon shot” to spur Southwest Virginia’s renewal.

The editors said such effort should build on the region’s higher education resources, which, if properly deployed, could lead to groundbreaking efforts in health care and energy, all of which would make the region an attractive place to live, work, and invest.

One item not on the paper’s list: casino gambling.

But that’s the option a number of legislators who gathered at a Monday news conference decided to follow.

If their legislation is successful, residents in three hard-pressed cities — Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth — would vote on referendums asking whether each city should become home to a shiny, new casino and, presumably, a jackpot of tax revenue, jobs and economic development.

If that sounds a bit like an episode of “The Simpsons,” you’re not wrong. For all the promises casino backers make to distressed communities, the benefits of many such developments quickly fade.

House Speaker Kirk Cox told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he doesn’t think gambling is a “panacea” for those looking to give economically struggling areas a boost.

Just in case some Republican legislators don’t understand that, the Family Foundation’s Victoria Cobb made it clear casinos and social conservatism don’t mix.

“Promoting an activity which is known to disproportionately harm those with the least means as the savior of an economically depressed area is dishonest, deluded, and dangerous,” Cobb said.

Though for those Virginians who have a hankering to let it all ride on red, they could wait for the Pamunkey Indian tribe to get its own casino open for business, possibly in downtown Norfolk.

So where is the moon shot in the 2019 session?

The closest thing to it is Sen. Bill Stanley’s plan to help modernize the commonwealth’s public school infrastructure.

Stanley’s plan is broken into two parts. One calls for a statewide advisory referendum asking voters whether the General Assembly should approve upward of $3 billion in bonds to refurbish the state’s crumbling public school infrastructure. Another establishes a new set of standards for school buildings and facilities, requiring them to be “designed, constructed, maintained, and operated in accordance with standards that seek to achieve a high-quality public education for all students.”

Fixing those schools — be they in Southwest Virginia, Richmond, Norfolk or even Fairfax County — is one way to help localities keep the human and intellectual capital they need close at hand.

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