As the year draws to a close, we’re looking ahead to 2011, and the big stories that will drive Virginia politics.
Here’s my list, in no particular order:
1. WHAT TO DO ABOUT VRS
When legislators reconvene Jan. 12, one of the biggest issues they’ll face is what to do about the Virginia Retirement System. A recent audit found the pension fund has $17.6 billion in unfunded liabilities. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has proposed requiring state workers to pay into the system for the first time since 1983. His plan would amount to a two-percent drop in take-home pay for state employees, and many aren’t happy about it.
2. ABC PRIVATIZATION
Will McDonnell present lawmakers with a plan to privatize the state’s liquor stores, as promised? If so, what do the numbers look like? How has the plan evolved since its last iteration? The governor was tight-lipped about the issue during an interview last week. But he promised that a formal proposal is coming. If you believe Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the idea is dead-on-arrival in that chamber, regardless.
3. COLLEGE TUITION
The governor threw down the gauntlet to colleges and universities earlier this month, by withhold funds from VCU as punishment for the school’s 24% tuition hike. Many view the move as a shot across the bow to U.Va., Tech and other universities. How will the schools respond? And what will the legislature do with McDonnell’s plan to invest tens of millions into higher education initiatives?
Do we really need to discuss this? It’s Virginia’s age-old dilemma. And the governor is not wavering on his pledge to veto any legislation that raises taxes on Virginians. His latest proposal — accelerated borrowing — isn’t warming the hearts of Democrats, either.
For the first time since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, a Democratic Justice Department will be reviewing redistricting plans. That raises the stakes here, as do legislative elections in the fall and the narrow balance of power in the state Senate. Plus, don’t be surprised to see both parties try to carve-up the Fifth District — especially as it relates to Charlottesville and other traditionally Democratic areas.
6. LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS
All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot this year. Look for battles over control of the Senate and efforts to protect or defeat vulnerable Northern Virginia Republicans.
7. U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES
Will Sen. Jim Webb (D) run again? Will former Sen. George Allen (R) formally jump in the race? And what about other GOP candidates? The field in this high-profile race should flesh out by the end of 2011.
Oh, and if Webb decides not to run, who’s on the bench for Democrats? Former Gov. Tim Kaine?
8. TEA PARTY’S ROLE
Will the Tea Party challenge “establishment” Republicans in legislative races? That appears quite likely at this juncture. The bigger question is what type of impact Virginia’s Tea Party will have on the outcome.
9. THE NEW CONGRESS
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-7th) becomes the new majority leader. Reps.-elect Scott Rigell (R-2nd), Robert Hurt (R-5th) and Morgan Griffith (R-9th) are sworn in.
10. DPVA’s HEALTH
Will staffing shake-ups and a sharper tone be enough to reverse the serious (and much-discussed) problems Virginia Democrats have had in recent years?
11. HEALTH CARE LAWSUIT
Virginia’s court challenge of President Obama’s health care overhaul will move forward on its path to the Supreme Court (eventually).