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by Peter Rousselot — January 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm 389 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOne of the most important issues to come before the Virginia Legislature in its 2014 session is whether to expand Medicaid. There will be an enormous financial impact regardless of whether Virginia expands Medicaid or not.

Fairfax County has prepared a helpful three-page white paper summarizing the issues at stake. You can access that white paper here.

I support Medicaid expansion, as does our Arlington legislative delegation. I am particularly hopeful that a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates can form to work with Governor-elect McAuliffe to expand Medicaid.

As a practical matter, it’s very hard to see a bill that can pass both branches of the legislature and be signed by the Governor if the only test every politician applies is: “I will automatically oppose Medicaid expansion if I opposed the Affordable Care Act,” or “I will automatically support expansion if I supported the ACA.” Instead, the most constructive way for our legislators and our governor to approach Medicaid expansion is: “regardless of what I think of the ACA, what is the right way now to analyze the benefits and costs of expanding or declining to expand Medicaid?”

The Virginian-Pilot editorial board got it right when it concluded that the cost of resisting Medicaid expansion in Virginia would be “ruinous.” Citing Bill Hazel, the highly-respected Health Secretary originally appointed by Bob McDonnell, and recently re-appointed by Terry McAuliffe, that editorial board summarized our choices this way:

Virginia lawmakers can preserve the financial health of hospitals across the commonwealth, save state tax dollars, strengthen local and state economies, extend managed health-care to nearly 400,000 people, many of them working poor, and recoup nearly $10 billion in federal taxes paid by Virginians over the next five years.

Or they can continue the reckless political theater destined to grow more costly with every passing year, a play that will cause a financial crisis at hospitals all across Virginia.

The right choice for Virginia is to expand Medicaid.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by ARLnow.com — December 27, 2013 at 9:35 am 904 0

A man watches a child ride a bike on the first day of winter (Flickr pool photo by Ddimick)

Va. Bill Would Stiffen Chicken Protections — A bill currently proposed in the Virginia General Assembly would remove a cap on the penalty for dog owners whose pets kill chickens and other fowl. If passed, the legislation could give new ammunition for opponents of urban hen raising in Arlington. Virginia law already allows for dogs found to be attacking chickens to be shot on sight. [Sun Gazette]

Party Tonight to Include ‘Drunk Santa’ — Fresh off a grueling evening of world-wide present delivering, Santa Claus is apparently ready to party. Wilson Tavern (2403 Wilson Blvd) in Courthouse is hosting a “Misfits Christmas Party” tonight. According to a poster for the event, it includes the opportunity to “get you picture taken with drunk Santa.” [Clarendon Nights]

Vihstadt Has a ‘Very Real Chance’ — Local political prognosticator Ben Tribbett, who runs the Not Larry Sabato blog, says independent Arlington County Board candidate John Vihstadt has a “very real chance” of ending Democrats’ total sweep of Arlington elected offices. “Arlington Democrats always have massive underperformance issues in special elections,” Tribbett writes. “There is a very real chance that in March, Arlington’s time as being controlled by all Democratic elected officials will come to an end.” Tribbett also notes that Vihstadt, despite running as an independent and attracting some Democratic endorsements, is “a large GOP donor.” [Not Larry Sabato]

Flickr pool photo by Ddimick

by Ethan Rothstein — December 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm 1,961 0

The Arlington County Board(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) The Arlington County Board is asking the Virginia General Assembly for the ability to charge paper and plastic bag fees at retailers as part of its 2014 legislative package.

The Board also is asking the General Assembly to approve a WMATA inspector position — which would enforce fares on the future Crystal City Transitway bus and streetcar line to make sure riders purchase tickets before boarding — and to repeal the hybrid vehicle tax.

Arlington needs state approval to enact a bag fee, which the Sun Gazette says “seems unlikely to get much traction.” (It has thrice failed to win support in Richmond.)

The Board doesn’t specify how much a bag fee would be — in Washington, D.C., and Maryland it’s 5 cents — but says it would be exempt if the bags were used for ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning, alcoholic beverages, and prescription drugs. The funds from the fees would go into the Water Quality Improvement Fund.

The fare inspector, if approved, would be able to give violators citations or tickets and would also be responsible for monitoring the connecting Alexandria Bus Rapid Transit line. The inspector wouldn’t have any police powers, the Board proposed.

In addition to repealing the alternative fuel vehicle surcharge, the county board asks the General Assembly to leave last year’s landmark transportation funding bill unchanged.

In general terms, the county encourages the legislature to avoid shifting costs to localities, achieve financial sustainability and to navigate the transitional period from the Bob McDonnell administration to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.

In all, there are 43 requests in the county’s 2014 legislative package. Other requests include studying the efficacy of separate courts for minor drug offenses, improving accessibility at polling places and enacting no-excuse absentee voting.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm 583 0

State Sen. Adam EbbinState Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) doesn’t like it when supporters commend him for “fighting the good fight” on legalizing same-sex marriage in Virginia.

Such talk suggests that he’s taking a futile stand to make a point. Instead, Ebbin insists that he’s in it to win it.

Ebbin has introduced legislation for the 2014 Virginia General Assembly session to try to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment, Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 1, is a long-shot by any measure: it would require passage in 2014 and 2016 in order to repeal the gay marriage ban.

Ebbin’s bill will be the first time the Senate will hear a same-sex marriage proposal — the only challenge to the Marshall-Newman Amendment previously came in the House of Delegates and never made it out of committee, Ebbin said.

“I’ve waited to introduce this bill until we’ve come to the point where I think it is a bill that Virginians are ready to pass,” he told ARLnow.com. “I have had discussions with Republicans and Democrats, including with people who supported the Marshall-Newman Amendment. There are supportive Republicans in the General Assembly.”

Ebbin will put the bill before the Senate Privileges and Elections committee, which he said will allow him and his allies to identify who the bill’s supporters are, even if it fails this year. Ebbin, however, has no plans to see the bill fail. Despite the amendment passing by a significant margin in 2006, he believes the time is right to take decisive action.

“We’re working to win,” he said. “If we don’t win one year, we’re working towards winning. It’s not tilting at windmills, it’s making things happen, whether quickly or over a multi-year effort.”

Public opinion around the country has shifted drastically in recent years over same-sex marriage. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized gay marriage, including seven in 2013, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.

Ebbin is encouraged by several Republicans both in and out of the General Assembly whose opinions “have evolved” in recent years on the subject. At least as of last week, he was confident that he has secured at least one GOP vote. When asked the reasons they’ve given him for the changes in their opinions, he said, “It’s not really complicated. People say it’s the right thing to do, or they know it’s the right thing to do.”

“It wouldn’t have been seen as a winnable fight five years ago,” he said. “The Supreme Court has spoken and people across the country, and including Virginia, are supportive of marriage equality.”

File photo

by ARLnow.com — November 5, 2013 at 7:50 pm 2,658 0

Alfonso Lopez speaks at the Democratic victory party on Columbia Pike(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) Arlington Democrats once again have reason to celebrate on election night.

Democratic incumbents have cruised to reelection in all local races. Meanwhile, Democratic voters in Arlington and Northern Virginia have helped push two statewide candidates to victory.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe has been elected the next governor of Virginia, defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis. Democrat Ralph Northam, meanwhile, has defeated Republican E.W. Jackson in the race for lieutenant governor.

Voting in Virginia ended at 7:00 p.m., on an election day when the gubernatorial race was garnering the lion’s share of headlines and voter interest. In Arlington, without a Republican candidate in any local race, third party candidates like Audrey Clement, Green Party candidate for Arlington County Board, were left to provide the opposition to the Democrats on the ballot.

With all votes counted, here are the final numbers:

  • County Board – Jay Fisette (D): 66%; Audrey Clement (G): 31%
  • House of Delegates, 45th District – Rob Krupicka (D): 74%; Jeffrey Engle (I): 25%
  • House of Delegates, 47th District – Patrick Hope (D): 77%; Laura Delhomme (L): 22%
  • House of Delegates, 49th District — Alfonso Lopez (D): 78%; Terrence Modglin (IG): 21%

The races for Arlington School Board and the 48th House of Delegates District, featuring incumbents James Lander and Del. Bob Brink, were uncontested.

On the referendum question of whether Arlington should establish a redevelopment and housing authority, the “no” position — endorsed by both the local Republican and Democratic parties — is well ahead.

  • Housing Authority Referendum – Yes: 31%; No: 69%

Speeches at the Democratic victory party on Columbia PikeAt their election night party on Columbia Pike, Arlington Democrats were celebrating victories in local races and expressing enthusiasm about their role in the statewide races.

“It’s a great night in Arlington,” said Arlington County Democratic Committee Chairman Mike Lieberman. “Our goal in Arlington is to do our part to turn out every Democrat in a Democratic area, to try to run up the score to make sure we can offset some of the more conservative areas in the state. Based on the numbers we saw here today, we did that.”

“I think Arlingtonians reacted really well to McAuliffe’s centrist message, his good government message, his jobs message, and I think quite frankly Cuccinelli and his ticket didn’t offer much for Arlington,” Lieberman continued. “The strength of Democrats is a validation of the community we have here.”

Reelected Delegate Alfonso Lopez said night’s Democratic victories were a rejection of Tea Party politics.

“Tea Party hypocrisy and Tea Party policies are not the way to govern the Commonwealth,” he said.

Jay Fisette and supporters at a Democratic victory party on Columbia PikeCounty Board member Jay Fisette, who will take over the chairmanship of the Board in January 2014, called his reelection “gratifying” and thanked Democratic volunteers for their get-out-the-vote efforts.

“This is a great county and I really appreciate the support you’ve given me,” he said. Fisette also thanked his husband, Bob Rosen, though he had to correct himself when he initially called Rosen his “partner.” The two were wed in the District in September.

“I’m not used to saying that word [husband],” Fisette said.

As chairman, Fisette will likely preside over the hot-button vote on whether to allow urban hen-raising in Arlington. But he said he’s particularly focused on three major challenges facing the county: economic development and the high commercial office vacancy rate; affordable housing; and burgeoning school enrollments.

“I’m looking forward to the challenges… I’m really ready to hit the ground and continue working on them,” he said.

(more…)

by Mark Kelly — August 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm 769 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

Last week, my counterpart on the left wrote at length about Ken Cuccinelli (R) un-ringing a bell.

As Peter should know, the gifts Cuccinelli received were legal under Virginia law — even if ill-advised. He also should know that Cuccinelli called for an immediate special session of the General Assembly to debate and pass new ethics rules on gifts. Cuccinelli’s position is we should address this issue now.

What is Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe’s (D) position on ethics reform? McAuliffe has said he supports a $100 gift cap, but he opposes a special session on ethics — calling it a “gimmick.”

It has been widely reported that McAuliffe’s former company, GreenTech Automotive, is under SEC investigation. One question mark is what happened to $45.5 million invested in what Virginia economic development officials under Gov. Kaine were concerned was a cash-for-visas scheme? If McAuliffe did not unduly benefit, why is he refusing to match Cuccinelli’s tax return disclosures?

And, what if we take a look at the gift disclosures of our other elected officials who served in Richmond and evaluate the gifts under the “Peter’s Take” lens?

For example, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) did not cut a refund check to the wealthy donor who gave him the use of a Caribbean vacation home for $15,000 in 2005 when he was running for governor. It is similar to the gifts Cuccinelli received. And, Kaine can afford it, right? Will Peter take on this gift in next week’s column?

One source of gift-giving to our local delegation also sticks out like a sore thumb. You may recall that the Signature Theater recently received a taxpayer-funded, $250,000 bailout for its unpaid taxes. All the while, Signature has been handing out free tickets to our local delegation in Richmond.

From 2008 to 2012, free theater tickets for the amounts indicated were given to the following local lawmakers:

  • Adam Ebbin (D): $1,523
  • Patrick Hope (D): $860 (3 years)
  • Bob Brink (D): $795
  • Barbara Favola (D): $367 (2 years)

Under the Peter’s Take standard, should these elected officials who received free theater tickets from Signature cut a refund check to the Treasurer’s Office in Arlington? It would certainly help offset the cost of the bailout by $3,545.

And, any member of the all-Democrat County Board should probably reimburse the treasury for any free tickets they received from Signature as well, right? They can afford it, right?

Hopefully Peter will take on Democrats on gifts and ethics as well.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — February 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm 2,588 21 Comments

The Commonwealth was once again the butt of jokes on The Daily Show last night. But this time around, a local Virginia legislator at least got some snarky kudos from Jon Stewart.

The Comedy Central show featured a mock-segment, alternately titled “Virginia Is Not For Lovers” and “19th Century News,” about the efforts of state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) to repeal the state’s long-standing law against an unmarried couple living together. Though rarely enforced, Virginia law classifies “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” as a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine.

Ebbin’s bill, SB 969, has passed the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate and is now awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) signature.

by ARLnow.com — February 21, 2013 at 9:15 am 2,910 141 Comments

Welcome to Arlington sign (photo by Katie Pyzyk)

Arlington on a ‘Money-Hungry Crusade?’ — Arlington is on “a money-hungry crusade for increased revenue at the expense of neighborhoods and communities,” writes the Arlington Connection. The paper suggests that “residential neighborhoods are increasingly in the crosshairs of developers seeking larger and larger densities,” and the County Board is acquiescing to their demands in an effort to drum up more tax money. “This is a County Board that acts like Republicans even though they’re all Democrats,” one civic association president is quoted as saying. [Arlington Connection]

Governor Backs Bipartisan Transportation Deal — A bipartisan compromise on transportation funding in the Virginia General Assembly has won the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). The deal, which will ultimately raise $880 million per year for transportation projects, replaces the 17.5 cent gas tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gas and a 6 percent wholesale tax on diesel. It also raises the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and imposes a $100/year fee on hybrid vehicles. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Shakespeare Production to Include ‘Splash Zone’ — The Synetic Theater production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” opening today in Crystal City, will include 2,500 gallons of standing water on stage, an on-stage rainfall, and a “splash zone” (a section of audience seating likely to get wet during the show). [Washington Post]

Parks Dept. Says Camp Registration Went Smoothly — The Arlington County parks department received more than 1,900 summer camp registrations between 7:00 and 7:10 a.m. yesterday. Officials said the registration process, which has been beset by technical problems in the past, went smoothly this time around. [Patch]

ARLnow Commenters Called ‘Offputting’ — An Arlington “community notable” has “found the ranting of loony respondents on ARLnow to be offputting,” according to Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. McCaffrey predicts that of Arlington’s three online-only news sites, “odds are not all will survive the year.” [Sun Gazette]

by ARLnow.com — February 19, 2013 at 8:30 am 1,067 26 Comments

View of Rosslyn across the Potomac (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

Wakefield Captures District Championship — On Friday, the Wakefield High School boy’s basketball team defeated Mount Vernon 69-60 to become the National District champions. Wakefield is now competing in the Northern Region regional tournament. Yorktown, which fell 42-82 to Wakefield in the National District tournament, is also competing as a lower seed in the Northern Region tournament. [Northern Virginia Sports]

Neighbors Want Security Guard at New Homeless Shelter — Residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominium in Courthouse are pressing Arlington officials to place a 24-hour security guard at the county’s planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. Residents say they’re worried about an increase in crime as a result of the shelter moving next to their building. A resident’s Freedom of Information Act request revealed that there have been just under 6 police responses to the existing shelter per year, on average, between 1994 and 2011, mostly for alcohol-related incidents. [Arlington Mercury]

Arlington Tourism Tax Bill Passes General Assembly — A bill that would restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is destined for the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The state legislature approved the bill, which will restore the tax authority — which is used to fund tourism promotion — for three years. [Sun Gazette]

Conservative Tech Biz Booming in Arlington — Business is booming for a small Arlington-based conservative digital advocacy company. The co-founder of Red Edge, which is based above an antique shop in Lyon Park, says he expects the business to double or triple this year as Republicans look to make up ground lost to Democrats in the online sphere. [New York Times]

Registration Open for Ballston LaunchPad Challenge — Registration is now open for the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. The contest challenges entrepreneurs to come up with the “next great idea,” for a chance to pitch their innovation to billionaire Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. [Ballston BID]

Flickr pool photo by WolfkannDisclosure: Ballston BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser. 

by ARLnow.com — February 14, 2013 at 8:55 am 742 69 Comments

Ballston apartment building by Wolfkann

Va. Senate Passes Transportation Bill — The Virginia state Senate yesterday passed a Democrat-backed transportation bill that would raise gas taxes and index them to inflation, impose a gas wholesale tax, and would allow Northern Virginia localities to impose a sales tax surcharge to pay for transportation projects. Unlike a version of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan that passed the House of Delegates, it does not increase the overall statewide sales tax rate. [Washington Post]

House Rejects Income Tax Proposal — A bill that would have allowed Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a one percent income tax in order to pay for transportation improvements has failed in the House of Delegates. The House Committee on Finance voted to reject the bill. [Sun Gazette]

GGW: Pike Bus Proposal is Not BRT — Those who are proposing a more modern bus system for Columbia Pike as an alternative to the county’s streetcar plan are falsely calling calling it Bus Rapid Transit, writes David Alpert. Also, the proposed bus system might be just as expensive as the streetcar, Alpert said. [Greater Greater Washington]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

by ARLnow.com — February 12, 2013 at 11:45 am 1,505 130 Comments

J. Walter TejadaArlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has suggested that he’s open to a discussion about imposing a local income tax and using it to fund transportation projects, the Washington Post reports.

A bill that would allow Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a 1 percent income tax without a voter referendum passed the Virginia state Senate last week. It’s now under consideration in the House of Delegates, although most tax bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-majority body.

(Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and other jurisdictions are currently authorized to impose a 0.25 to 1 percent income tax, but must first have it approved by voters.)

Tejada told the Post’s Tom Jackman that the Board is following the bill “intently.”

“We’re always trying to find ways to fund transportation projects, and considering we were ranked number one in gridlock, any resources would be helpful,” Tejada said. “We’ve been trying different things, and traffic’s not going anywhere.”

At last month’s meeting, County Board members said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) transportation plan might not raise enough new revenue to meet Northern Virginia’s transportation needs. McDonnell and state lawmakers are currently working to hash out a compromise version of the governor’s proposal.

by ARLnow.com — February 8, 2013 at 9:30 am 2,351 97 Comments

View of Route 1 in Crystal City at night

Man Sentenced for Harassing Arlington Woman — A 47-year-old I.T. worker from New England has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stalking and harassing an Arlington mom and her 16-year-old daughter. Bruce Stimon was accused of emailing the woman’s friends and saying she had an STD; posting her name, photo and work phone number on prostitution sites, secretly recording a video of them having sex, posting it on porn sites, and sending it to her daughter’s Twitter friends; and repeatedly slashing her tires. [WJLA]

Arlington Hotel Tax Passes House — A bill that would restore Arlington’s authority to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge has narrowly passed the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill earlier passed the state Senate, but the House bill contains a three year sunset provision that wasn’t in the Senate version, meaning the House and the Senate will need to hash out a combined bill in order for it to reach the governor’s desk. [Richmond Sunlight]

Navy Sets USS Arlington Commissioning Date — The new USS Arlington will be commissioned in Norfolk on April 6, the Navy has announced. [Sun Gazette]

Tejada Says No to Anti-Streetcar Groups — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has declined requests from groups critical of the Columbia Pike streetcar seeking to make presentations at an upcoming streetcar community forum. Tejada said the purpose of the forum, on March 27, is to “update the community” on the streetcar project, not to debate the Board’s decision to build the streetcar. [Sun Gazette]

by ARLnow.com — February 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm 710 41 Comments

A redistricting effort by Republicans in the Virginia Senate, which would have resulted in Arlington losing much of its legislative clout in that body, has been defeated.

The state Senate passed the surprise redistricting plan on Jan. 21 by a party-line vote of 20-19, thanks to the absence of Democratic Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights lawyer who was attending President Obama’s inauguration that day. The unexpected vote drew strong criticism from Democrats and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

The redistricting plan would have benefited Republicans, turning several Democratic-held districts heavily Republican. It would also have reduced Arlington’s legislative influence, moving veteran state Senator Janet Howell’s district back out of Arlington (she represents part of north Arlington as a result of the 2011 redistricting) and reducing state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s portion of Arlington to a small sliver of south Arlington.

Arlington’s interests would have been represented in the state Senate primarily by Sen. Barbara Favola, the former Arlington County Board member who was elected to the state legislature in 2011.

The redistricting plan, which was tacked on to a bill that was supposed to make small technical changes to House of Delegates districts, was ruled not germane by Republican House Speaker Bill Howell on Wednesday, defeating it.

by ARLnow.com — February 4, 2013 at 8:40 am 484 1 Comment

A&R Engravers in Clarendon (photo by Jorge Banales)

Kaine Meeting With Defense Contractors in Arlington — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) will be in Arlington today meeting with Northern Virginia defense contractors. Kaine will be holding a roundtable discussion at Courthouse-based contractor Dynamis at 3:00 p.m. “The event today in Arlington will discuss the upcoming sequester cuts that are reported to threaten 1 to 1.4 million jobs with a disproportionate effect in Northern Virginia,” a Kaine spokeswoman told ARLnow.com.

Arlington Tax Surcharge Advances – A bill to restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is closer to passing in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill has passed the state Senate and last week passed the House of Delegates Committee on Finance, albeit with a three year sunset provision. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce supports the tax surcharge, which helps to fund county tourism promotion efforts. [Sun Gazette]

PBS Doc Films at Glebe, H-B Woodlawn — An upcoming PBS documentary called “The Path to Violence” filmed at two Arlington Public Schools on Sunday. The production filmed at Glebe Elementary School and at H-B Woodlawn, according to an email from Arlington County. The Path to Violence, which is expected to air the week of Feb. 18, will tackle the topics of school safety and school violence.

Corps of Engineers to Review Tree Concerns — The Army Corps of Engineers says it will revise its Environmental Assessment of Arlington National Cemetery’s planned expansion in response to concerns from residents about the loss of old-growth trees. [Arlington Mercury]

Flickr pool photo by Jorge Bañales

by Katie Pyzyk — January 30, 2013 at 3:50 pm 772 96 Comments

Screen grab of County Board discussing Gov. McDonnell's tranportation plan(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) County Board members spent a portion of Tuesday’s meeting expressing distaste with Governor McDonnell’s proposed transportation plan, namely the idea of eliminating Virginia’s gas tax.

The proposal would do away with the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, but would increase the state’s sales tax from five percent to 5.8 percent. The plan also would increase vehicle registration fees and add a yearly $100 charge for drivers with alternative fuel cars. McDonnell said that would raise about $3.1 billion over five years to fund road, transit and rail projects across the state.

County Board member Jay Fisette said that while it’s good to have some sort of proposal on the table in order to start a conversation about transportation funding, this plan is not the answer. He further stated that the plan was offered to the General Assembly at the last minute, without adequate time to review and understand it.

“Many people see this as a vehicle on which to find a better compromise or a more functional proposal,” he said. “This is hugely important to Arlington, to Northern Virginia and to the future of this state. I’m willing to give kudos for starting a conversation, but if this passed it would be a big mistake in the form it was proposed by the governor.”

Fisette believes eliminating the gas tax would incentivize driving and reduce the use of public transit.

“While it sounds good to eliminate a tax, they would be adding others. This is a user fee. There is a gas tax in every state in the United States. We would be the first to decouple the incentive to drive with the cost of driving,” said Fisette. “You’re still looking at a fee to ride transit, but you’re going to remove the gas fee for driving and spread that cost among everyone who buys something in Virginia. That doesn’t seem fair to people who choose to use transit.”

Several Board members worried that the proposal wouldn’t actually raise the additional money McDonnell says it will, but simply moves it over from a different area.

Screen grab of County Board member Jay Fisette discussing Gov. McDonnell's transporation plan“It shifts money from the general fund, which has been the basic source of funds for education, human services and public safety, and shifts those to transportation,” said Fisette. “So it’s robbing the basic source of funds for the rest of our needs to pay for transportation.”

Board member Mary Hynes echoed Fisette’s concern.

“We can talk about how poorly they’ve spent the money they have, but the reality of what the governor has proposed is it’s mostly smoke and mirrors,” she said. “It’s taking away with one hand and putting it in another place. The actual new money that’s involved in any near term frame is very small.”

Both Fisette and Hynes pointed out that nearly one-third of the proposed funds ($1 billion) would not be immediately available because it’s tied to pending legislation in Congress regarding internet sales tax revenue.

The transportation plan’s perceived dilution of local government’s authority and an increased role for state government proved to be another recurring topic of discussion. Board member Chris Zimmerman called it a “blatant power grab.”

“This is getting very frustrating to a lot of people in local government, that the administration has been not only not helpful in providing more funding, but essentially is continually distracting the conversation with these efforts to shift power away from people who have to pay the bills,” said Zimmerman.

A legislative committee approved the governor’s proposal today, and it’s expected to go before the full House and Senate in the Virginia General Assembly next week. The General Assembly is currently about halfway through its short 45 day session.

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