The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Out with a Bang; A1

Louderback says goodbye to the life of a delegate

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

LURAY — When the General Assembly is gaveled to order on Jan. 11, Allen Louderback won’t be there.

The Page County Republican is hanging up his political career, after opting not to seek re-election as 15th District delegate in November. Todd Gilbert, a Republican and former Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney from Woodstock, will take over in January.

But his impending retirement didn’t stop Louderback from speaking his mind this week during an interview with the Daily at his home in Luray.

Legislators need to remember who’s paying the bills and do a much better job of watching the bottom line, he said in no uncertain terms.

“I think the biggest problem we have, when there’s extra money, we don’t have the political courage to cut back and in cases reduce percentages of taxes raised,” Louderback said, sitting in his district office in a front room of his home.

This year’s budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner is a prime example of what’s wrong with Richmond these days, the three-term delegate said.

“How fast is inflation and population grown in the same period?” Louderback said. “It’s not grown 13 percent,” the amount of growth in Warner’s budget.

“We should be tying our budgets to that figure. Not ironclad, but at least as a guideline,” he said, leaning forward in his chair.

“If we’re going above that figure, then we ought to be rebating some of that money and causing our agencies to be tighter in their efforts.”

Making sure tax dollars don’t get wasted has been the hallmark of Louderback’s six years in the legislature.

The founder of the bipartisan Cost Cutting Caucus said the state’s agencies have forgotten what taxes are all about.

“I think they just see it as money created out of the blue, therefore it has no meaning to them,” he said. “I hate to say that, but it’s true.”

His fight to get rid of “VDOT Orange” is a prime example. Louderback pushed for years to force the Virginia Department of Transportation to buy equipment in colors produced by manufacturers off the shelf, rather than painting it orange.

But some at the agency and others in government fought back, saying the specialty paint color was a safety issue. Now, with white trucks and stock color chain saws, the state is saving $200,000 per year.

“There was no incentive to work harder to save money” anywhere in state government, he said. “They got paid the same no matter what.”

It’s something the state’s Republican party should keep in mind as it goes into the 2006 session, Louderback said. In recent years, the GOP has been rolling over when things get hot when it comes to using taxpayer funds wisely.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayers first,” he said. Legislators must do a better job of riding herd on the legion of state agencies that spend tax dollars.

“I still don’t see that. We have agencies that need to be worked on to do a better job,” he said.

State spending has gone up some $20 billion while he’s been in office.

“To me, that says there’s some real weakness in how we’re handling the money that the taxpayers are giving to us,” he said. “There are things that we’re getting into that we shouldn’t be.”

Take, for example, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control stores. That’s one bit of unfinished business the delegate is passionate about.

Louderback carried bills for years that would have “franchised” the stores into private hands, letting the private sector reap profits from sales while the state nets the taxes and franchise fees, all the while keeping a tight rein on regulations.

“If their figures are correct as to what these stores are bringing in” the franchise sales could be worth $600 million, he said.

At a time when school systems are clamoring for more funds and the state needs billions for transportation, “$600 million, even a one-time shot, is a pretty good infusion of funds that’s just laying there,” Louderback said.

With all that still needs to be done in Richmond, one might think the last thing Louderback would be doing this year is packing it in. But he’s hanging up his political career for one basic reason — time. He said he’s tired, and wants to start paying attention to his businesses again.

“Money isn’t everything, but you’ve got to eat and take care of your family,” he said.

The 15th House of Delegates district is huge, and a long way from Richmond.

Whoever holds the seat represents residents of Strasburg, Orkney Springs, Flint Hill in Rappahannock County and all points in between. Getting around to see the constituents — added to day trips back and forth to Richmond — is tough to do.

Still, it was worse before the last round of redistricting took parts of Frederick and Warren counties out of his bailiwick, Louderback said.

“[The district is] not quite as huge as it was when I first got it,” he said. Just meeting constituents was tough back then.

“You’d go to some of the functions, especially in Frederick, and there’d be about 100 people there,” Louderback said, “and you’d be lucky if eight of them were from your area.”

The General Assembly convenes on Jan. 11.