(Updated on 07/12/19) A new independent candidate has thrown his hat in the ring to challenge Del. Alfonso Lopez’s bid for re-election this year.
Terry Modglin is former non-profit organization executive who also served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam for four years. He’s now running against the Democratic incumbent to represent parts of Arlington and Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates. This is the second candidate to run against Lopez, who recently defeated Democratic challenger Julius “JD” Spain, Sr. in the primary election.
Modglin’s campaign platform is centered around green energy, public transportation, and opposing expanded access to abortion.
Modglin said he supports the Independent Green message of “More trains, less traffic.” He’s also calling for new Orange or Silver Metrorail stations at Seven Corners and Skyline, advocating for more walkable and bikeable communities, and tax incentives for solar and wind power.
Modglin has run before with the Independent Green Party of Virginia in 2015 for the Virginia state Senate and as a Green Party candidate for the House of Delegates in 2013. He clarified that this time around he is running as an independent.
Modglin told ARLnow one of the main reasons he decided to run was because of Lopez’s support for House Bill 2491, also known as the Repeal Act.
The bill would remove Virginia’s requirement that women undergo an ultrasound before they’re allowed to undergo an abortion and would make it easier for women to obtain a third-trimester abortion if their doctor found the women’s life was in danger. President Donald Trump criticized the bill in a rally earlier this year, focusing on the regulations around third-trimester abortions, which he and others have called “late-term abortions.”
The Repeal Act was tabled during the most recent legislative session.
When asked whether his anti-abortion stance could hurt his chances among Arlington voters, Modglin acknowledged the majority vote progressive but said he was convinced “voters in the 49th District do not favor late-term abortions. Mr. Lopez and I have a difference there.”
One area both candidates agree on is the need for greater gun control in Virginia. Modglin said he supports the ream of reforms from Gov. Ralph Northam, which include universal background checks, protective orders, and bans on bump stocks and large-capacity magazines.
(The GOP-led state Senate adjourned yesterday before votes could be taken on gun control bills during a special legislative session called by Northam.)
Modglin said he has a personal connection to calls for gun reform. When he was serving in Vietnam, his 13-year-old brother accidentally shot himself in the face with a friend’s gun.
“He would have died from choking on his own blood except for the tracheotomy given him by the EMTs,” said Modglin. “I asked him a few years later what happened with that gun. He said the young owner a few years later pulled over to the side of the road and shot himself through the head.”
Lopez has served in Richmond since 2012 and has racked up several endorsements from labor groups for his bid for reelection. He’s also raised a sizable war chest from green energy proponents after dropping campaign contributions from Dominion Energy.
Earlier, Lopez told ARLnow that his biggest accomplishments this year were increasing funding for affordable housing, ending a driver license suspension policy some say punished poor people, and mandating the state notify veterans whose military identification information was stolen. He’s since pledged to continue increasing affordable housing funding and countering “far right legislation” such as bills restricting access to reproductive health care.
Modglin will face off against Lopez in the general election on Nov. 5. Virginia residents can check their voter registration status here.
Image 1 via Facebook
Last week, we asked the two Democratic candidates in the House of Delegates race for the 49th District to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them in the June 11 primary.
Here is the unedited response from Alfonso Lopez:
It has been the greatest honor of my career to serve the residents of the 49th District as your Delegate in Richmond. Our district, which runs along Columbia Pike from Pentagon City to Bailey’s Crossroads and then up Route 7 to Seven Corners, is one of the most vibrant and diverse places in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Moreover, I am reminded every day that we live in a special community that believes in lifting everyone up and leaving no one behind. Indeed, those are the core values that have guided my legislative agenda in the General Assembly.
When I first ran for the House of Delegates, I made a pledge that I would be a champion for the progressive values that have made our community such a welcoming place for people from every corner of the world. These values have come under attack by a far-right element of the Republican majority that has sought year after year to overturn Virginia’s progress by gutting the social safety net, eliminating reproductive freedom, and demonizing the immigrant community.
In the General Assembly, I have worked to build coalitions of legislators, policy advocates, and community activists to successfully defend against far-right legislation and to pass common-sense bills that will move Virginia forward. I am proud to have been able to patron, co-patron, or chief co-patron 115 bills over the last eight years that were signed into law–49 of which were bipartisan efforts. These include bills strengthening tenant protections, expanding healthcare to immigrant mothers and children, protecting passports and military IDs from identity theft, and incentivizing the use of solar and other renewable energy sources across Virginia.
One of my top priorities in the House of Delegates has been addressing our region’s housing affordability crisis. As someone who grew up in Fairfax County and now lives along the Columbia Pike corridor, I have witnessed first-hand the changes our community has seen over the last few decades. As our region continues to grow, housing is becoming more and more expensive–preventing many young people from becoming homeowners and leading to fears that lower-income residents are being pushed out of communities they may have lived in for decades.
This is an issue I’ve been focused on for many years. In 2013, the General Assembly passed my bill creating the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF)–an important tool used by the state to provide funding to projects dedicated to preserving and building affordable housing, as well as addressing homelessness. In the years since its creation, the VHTF has already helped create housing for thousands of Virginians–including hundreds of families in the 49th District.
As a member of the House Democratic leadership team, I have strived to use my voice to amplify the concerns and needs of the many working-class families and marginalized communities that call the 49th District home. We have worked to end the school-to-prison pipeline by limiting long-term school suspensions, increased teachers’ salaries by 5%, secured a dedicated source of revenue for the Metro system, worked on criminal justice reform, expanded no-excuse absentee voting, and–perhaps most importantly– expanded Medicaid to almost 400,000 Virginians across the state, including 5,600 of our neighbors in the 49th District.
Nothing has been more rewarding, however, than the work my office has done to provide direct assistance to the constituents of our district. As a Delegate, my most important role is that of being a liaison and advocate for constituents and their needs with state and local government.
For example, when VDOT announced the pending closure of the DMV on Four Mile Run, my office and I worked quickly to organize a community meeting to allow residents to express their concerns about the impact the closure would have on low-income residents and the elderly. By amplifying voices from the community and facilitating intense negotiations between community leaders and state officials, my office was able to keep the DMV in Arlington where it continues to serve thousands of our neighbors to this day.
Our Commonwealth and our community have made a number of great strides in the past few years, but it’s clear that we still have much work to do. Going forward, I am determined to continue pursuing an agenda that is focused on social and economic justice for all of Virginia’s families. As your Delegate, I will always be committed to creating a community and a Commonwealth that lifts everyone up and leaves no one behind.
I ask for your support and vote on June 11th!
Campaign endorsements are stacking up in the House of Delegates primary race between incumbent Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) and challenger Julius D. “JD” Spain, Sr.
Lopez has racked up support from several labor groups. The International Union of Painters & Allied Trades District Council 51 and the Mid-Atlantic Pipe Trades Association both announced their support last week. Food service union UNITE HERE Local 23 DC Chapter, which represents airport concession workers, food service workers and others, also joined the list of local unions supporting Lopez.
“While these endorsements are an excellent way of showing broad support from trusted voices — and the types of issues I look forward to enacting — the most important measure of support for the upcoming primary is the depth and breadth of our campaign’s robust volunteer operation,” Lopez said in a statement to ARLnow, noting that a team of volunteers knocked on over 1,000 doors for his campaign last weekend.
Lopez said earlier this month he was “honored” to have so many labor groups endorse his campaign and pledged to “continue our fight in the General Assembly” against policies like right-to-work, which he says hurts workers and families.
With less than a month to go before the June 11 primary, Spain does not boast as lengthy a list of endorsements as his opponent, but he has received support from at least one prominent progressive group as well as local community members and activists.
“I, along with my entire team, [am] excited to have received the endorsement of the progressive and nationally recognized political action organization Our Revolution Arlington yesterday and Our Revolution Northern Virginia a few weeks ago,” Spain said, in an email statement today. “Additionally, the endorsements of prominent African-American and Latino community activists such as Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, the Honorable Frank Wilson, Mr. Gabriela Rubalcava, and Ms. Ingrid Vaca, who represent THE PEOPLE at the grassroots level resonates with voters.”
Our Revolution originally formed as an outgrowth of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign before forming local chapters nationwide. The Arlington chapter repeatedly protested Amazon’s deal with the county for its second headquarters last year, and now is endorsing Spain’s candidacy.
I am so grateful to Our Revolution NOVA for supporting a great set of primary challengers who will shake up the priorities of the establishment. It feels great to be part of the momentum behind progressive change on the economic, environmental, and social justice fronts! pic.twitter.com/x5GIz5jnix
— JD Spain for Delegate (@jdspainfordel49) May 7, 2019
Former School Board member Frank Wilson is among those endorsing Spain. He said in a statement that the former Marine “has a great deal of proven experience as a public servant” and is “honest, reliable and willing to work the long hours needed for a Delegate representing the people in District 49.”
“This campaign is built around inclusivity, believes in empowerment of others, transparency, and accountability,” Spain said. “I will always choose the working class over special interests and moneyed elites. Given the incumbent’s lack of transparency coupled with the events in Richmond this past February, I am confident voters in the 49th District are tired of the status-quo and ready for change.”
Campaign finance filings indicated that Spain had $6,364 left at the end of March in his coffers. He had poured more than $20,000 of his own money into the campaign to bolster his fundraising, which he restricted to donations from individuals.
Lopez, meanwhile, reported a war chest of $102,280 at the end of the first quarter, after raising money from clean energy groups and alcohol lobbyists, among others. All candidates running for election will release a new set of campaign finance reports next month.
Voters will choose between the two candidates for the Democratic nomination during the June 11 primary, and vote for their final choice during the November 5 general election.
Because no candidates from other parties are currently running for the 49th District seat, the primary could determine the result of the general election; however, independent or Republican candidates can still announce their intent to run after the primary.
County Board Roundup — As expected, the Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to approve a contract for Nauck Town Square, a purchase agreement to acquire Virginia Hospital Center-owned property, and a permit to convert former administrative offices next to Washington-Lee High School to classroom space for up to 600 students.
Adding Amazon Acquisitions in Arlington? — “Keep an eye on what companies Amazon.com Inc. buys next. It could be what fills HQ2. Acquisitions will likely determine what jobs and teams develop at the second headquarters in Arlington, said Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development.” [Washington Business Journal]
Drivers Work to Inflate Prices at DCA — “Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available — creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare.” [WJLA]
Garvey Endorses Stamos — “I believe we could use a healthy debate about equity in Arlington and how our legal justice system works. However, a healthy debate means using facts about what is working and what is not… I hope you will join me in voting for Theo Stamos for Commonwealth’s Attorney on June 11.” [Libby Garvey]
Sun Gazette Endorses Favola, Lopez — “In its endorsements, the paper said neither Nicole Merlene (who is challenging Favola) nor Julius Spain (who is taking on Lopez) has reached the rather high bar set for an endorsement of challengers to sitting office-holders.” [InsideNova]
Merlene on Kojo — “On @kojoshow, @NicoleMerleneVA says a second bridge over the Potomac, perhaps in Loudoun County, is needed, especially in light of the recent Beltway closure. She also expresses support for marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana in Va.” [Twitter]
Arlington Firms in Fortune 1000 — Four Arlington-based companies are in the new Fortune 1000 list: AES, CACI International, Graham Holdings, and AvalonBay Communities. Fairfax County, meanwhile, is home to ten Fortune 500 companies. [Fortune, Twitter]]
Man Sentenced for Threatening Ajit Pai — “Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal. This prosecution shows not only that we take criminal threats seriously, but also that online threats of violence have real world consequences.” [Twitter, USDOJ]
Another Amazon-Adjacent Acquisition — “Amazon’s planned second headquarters continues to attract the interest of major investors to the National Landing area. Newmark Knight Frank announced Friday it brokered the sale of Presidential Tower at 2511 Jefferson Davis Highway on behalf of the seller, Beacon Capital Partners. The building sold for $123M, according to CoStar information.” [Bisnow]
Photo courtesy @zachzsnapz/Instagram.
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(Updated on 04/25/19) Arlington’s representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates have made good on promises to eschew Dominion Energy money, according to recent campaign finance reports.
Arlington’s six candidates for the House of Delegates shared financial reports indicating their campaigns took in no money from the utility company this year. However, most candidates are still relying on contributions from advocacy and labor groups, political action committees, and businesses, as opposed to running campaigns based only around individual contributions.
Copies of the campaign finance reports filed in April and shared by the Virginia Public Access Project indicate longtime donors, like the Virginia Trials Lawyers Political Action Committee (PAC), continue to chip in big chunks of cash to campaigns. The PAC contributed a combined $3,500 to the four incumbent delegates between January and March this year.
So far Democrats in the House of Delegates have out-raised their Republican colleagues, as all 100 seats are up for grabs this election and the possibility of a Democratic majority in the legislature remains on the horizon.
The two candidates currently challenging Arlington’s Delegates reported fewer funds raised than the incumbents. Candidate J.D. Spain, Sr., who is challenging Alfonso Lopez, raised the most of all newcomers on the block with $18,556, largely from his own coffers.
All candidates are scheduled to file another round of finance reports on June 3, days before the June 11 primary election.
The primary will decide which of each party’s candidates for office progresses to the general election on November 5. Virginia residents must register to vote at least 30 days before the primary to be eligible to cast their vote, and can check the location of their polls here.
Below are more details from each Delegates’ April campaign finance filings.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D)
Lopez has raised by far the most money and also holds the largest war chest of any Delegate candidate in the running. He is currently being challenged by Democratic candidate J.D. Spain, Sr.
Lopez raised $50,924 between January 1 and March 31, according to reports, and spent $12,037. This leaves his campaign with $102,280 on hand after starting with $63,394 back in January.
Lopez’s biggest donor this cycle was Charlottesville investor Michael D. Bills who pledged to counter Dominion Energy with his campaign contributions this year and gave $10,000 to the sitting Delegate’s campaign.
“I believe that swearing off Dominion donations over a year ago just helped cement to my supporters that no money will ever influence me on a single piece of legislation, vote, decision, or opinion,” said Lopez today (Monday). “I have consistently voted against every Dominion Energy bill, and plan to do so as long as they continue to refuse to make renewable energy a major focus for Virginia.”
He added that he believed he had raised the most because he had “delivered real progressive results and the people of northern Virginia.”
Other notable investments to Lopez’s campaign came from the Virginia House Democrats Caucus ($5,000), and the Clean Virginia Fund ($5,000).
Lopez also accepted money from three alcohol groups: Virginia Wine Wholesalers PAC ($3,000), Virginia Beverage Association PAC ($2,000), and the Virginia Imports Ltd. ($500).
The delegate’s campaign for re-election has been endorsed by several unions, the Virginia Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, and the Arlington Professional Firefighters & Paramedics Association — the latter of which donated $1,000 to his campaign.
Candidate J.D. Spain, Sr. (D)
Lopez’s Democratic challenger in the primary elections is J.D. Spain, Sr., a former Marine and head of the local NAACP chapter who faced him in debate last Wednesday night.
In last week’s filings, Spain reported contributing tens of thousands of his own money into the campaign: $8,200 in loans, $12,259 in cash, and $4,134 in “in-kind” contributions, which usually refers to value of things like equipment and services donated to a campaign.
“I understand that monetary support is really important for a campaign,” Spain told ARLnow. “But being a first-time candidate it’s really tough to raise money. It’s especially hard for a military veteran because we don’t have large networks with donors.”
He added that he loaned himself money to pay staff, and is “proud” of the small donations he received from individuals. His biggest was $500 from James Younger, his neighbor and Arlington’s former Deputy Police Chief.
In total, Spain reported fundraising $18,556 since January when he kicked off his campaign with zero dollars. After spending $12,192, the candidate for Delegate reportedly has $6,364 left on hand.
Spain’s campaign does not yet have any endorsements.
Disagreements over campaign contributions and criminal justice reform during a debate last night revealed fault lines between some of the Democrats running for the party’s nomination.
Six candidates running for Commonwealth’s Attorney, state Senator and Delegate who sparred during the Wednesday night debate agreed on green energy and defeating Republicans. But their disagreements on other topics showed that even in an all-Democratic playing field there are shades of blue.
One area of disagreement was campaign contributions.
Sen. Barbara Favola was asked by a moderator why she continued to accept contributions from the controversial Advanced Towing company in light of complaints about employees allegedly towing a vehicle with the owner’s pet still inside.
The state senator called the story “extraordinary unfortunate” but said that the solution was for people “to go back to the landowner and complain about the contract” they have with a company.
Her challenger, Nicole Merlene hit back by referring to the 2017 NBC 4 report that Advanced Towing gave Favola $1,500 in campaign contributions after she voted to loosen towing regulations and allegedly convinced then-Governor Terry McAuliffe to do the same.
Favola said she voted “with the county” and that “what Governor McAuliffe had decided to do is Governor McAuliffe’s prerogative.”
Both candidates spoke in strong support of increasing affordable housing and paying interns.
A flash point Wednesday night was the issue of criminal justice reform.
Arlington’s representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates say they tackled a host of important issues, from criminal justice reform to LGBT parental rights to public health, during this year’s legislative session.
The county is represented in the state House by four elected officials — Democrats Mark Levine, Patrick Hope, Richard “Rip” Sullivan, and Alfonso H. Lopez — all of whom are up for re-election this year.
This year’s session began on January 9 and ended February 23. Here are what the delegates told ARLnow were their biggest legislative accomplishments in that time.
Del. Patrick Hope
Hope has represented Arlington in the House since 2010 and currently faces no Democratic challengers in his campaign for reelection. He says he introduced 12 bills during this year’s session, nine of which passed.
He told ARLnow that it’s difficult to choose his favorite because “I treat all my bills like my children,” but narrowed down his three biggest accomplishments in an email:
1) HB 2384 — making all Virginia schools 100 percent tobacco/nicotine free. This is significant because Big Tobacco has opposed such efforts in the past. It also is a sign that the tide is turning to recognize the dangers of cigarettes and vaping on children.
2) HB 1642 — requiring the Dept. of Corrections (DOC) to collect/report data on inmates in solitary confinement. I’ve been working with DOC for years to get the number of inmates in solitary down. We’ve decreased the number by more than 70 percent. This data collection effort will help us figure out who remains, why they are there, and if we can provide additional mental health resources to get them out.
3) HB 1933 — allow jails to treat people with serious mental illness who are unable to give consent. Current law requires that these individuals be sent to an inpatient hospital setting (mental health institution). This is part of a series of laws I’ve passed to allow treatment to occur in an outpatient or other appropriate setting in order to free up more inpatient psychiatric beds.
Del. Alfonso Lopez
Lopez is Democratic co-whip in the House of Delegates. He has served as a delegate since 2012, but now faces a challenger in J.D. Spain for his campaign for re-election this year.
Spain is a Marine Corps veteran who leads the local NAACP chapter and has said he wanted to “sharply draw a contrast” between his and Lopez’s stances on housing affordability and the achievement gap.
Lopez told ARLnow about his biggest wins this year in Richmond in an email:
- Successfully Increased Funding for Affordable Housing. In 2013, my legislation created the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Over the years the Trust Fund has become one of the major vehicles for addressing housing instability and homelessness prevention in the Commonwealth […] This year, working with the Governor’s office, we were able to secure an additional $7 million in total revenue for the Trust Fund — increasing the biennial budget amount to $18 million (far above typical appropriations)! This is a great step forward in our efforts to help Virginia families. That being said, I believe that we must do a great deal more to address affordable housing in every corner of the Commonwealth […]
- Driver’s License Suspensions. After working on this issue for several years, I was very proud that the General Assembly finally ended drivers license suspensions for individuals who have served their time, but are unable to pay court fines and/or fees (over 600,000 Virginians are hurt by this outdated policy). […] When a person’s driver’s license is suspended, they may face a difficult dilemma: obey the suspension and potentially lose their ability to provide for their families, or drive anyway and face further punishment — or even imprisonment — for driving under a suspended license. I am very happy that this misguided policy has finally been overturned with bipartisan support. This ends what I’ve often referred to as a modern day debtor’s prison […]
- Military ID & Passport Security. Before this session, there was no provision in state law that mandated immediate notification to people whose passport or military ID numbers were stolen in an online security breach. This left the information of many Virginians (especially in our area) at significant risk. I’m proud to have introduced and passed a bill, HB 2396, that fixes this glaring hole in the law. Virginia will now require that Passport and military ID information have the same protections as bank information and social security numbers.
One of the country’s leading progressive activists and researchers is launching a new fundraising push for primary challengers to two Arlington lawmakers.
Sean McElwee, a co-founder of Data for Progress, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that his organization would be launching “The Progressive Virginia Project,” an effort to raise cash for four candidates in Virginia’s statehouse races this fall. Among the group set to benefit from the fundraising is Nicole Merlene, who is challenging state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and J.D. Spain, who is looking to unseat Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District).
In a tweet describing the new program, McElwee wrote that his group is seeking to elect “progressives who are fighting for a Virginia where Dominion Energy doesn’t set the agenda.”
The utility company’s influence in Richmond has become an increasingly controversial issue for the state’s Democrats in recent years, with many (Lopez included) swearing off contributions from Dominion. The General Assembly helps regulate the company, convincing many lawmakers and activists that it’s inappropriate to then rely on Dominion’s largesse when election season rolls around.
Any money taken in by the program will be divvied up among Merlene, Spain and two other candidates: Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District), the legislature’s lone Democratic socialist and a fierce Amazon opponent, and Yasmine Taeb, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35th District).
McElwee was previously a leading voice in supporting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent progressive candidacy in New York, and launched a similar initiative during the 2018 midterms to elect several other candidates in statehouse races across the country. In all, his group was able to raise more than $448,000 to support races in eight states.
Data for Progress wrote on the new fundraising page that it picked the four candidates not only for their opposition to Dominion, but their support for a “Green New Deal, universal healthcare and racial justice” in Virginia.
— the supreme court will destroy everything we want (@SeanMcElwee) March 6, 2019
Merlene, who up until recently held leadership positions with the Arlington County Civic Federation and the county’s Economic Development Commission, has framed her run against Favola as a chance for a new generation to take the reins in Richmond.
In addition to criticizing Favola’s acceptance of Dominion cash — she’s taken $9,500 from Dominion over the last eight years — Merlene has blasted her work as a lobbyist while also serving as a senator. Favola runs a lobbying and consulting firm representing influential local institutions like Virginia Hospital Center and Marymount University.
Spain has also sworn off corporate cash in his challenge to Lopez, but that doesn’t provide quite the same contrast between the candidates. Lopez has refused money from both Dominion and Amazon (though he has taken Dominion money in past years), and draws most of his campaign cash from progressive groups.
Spain, currently the president of Arlington’s NAACP, has focused his campaign thus far on providing fresh representation in Richmond, and beefing up support for affordable housing and schools in the South Arlington district. He has not, however, attacked Lopez over his much-discussed consulting work for an ICE contractor, which McElwee highlighted in his support for Spain. The activist has made calls to “Abolish ICE” a central part of his work, prompting a broader debate within the Democratic party about the agency’s role.
It remains to be seen, however, just how much traction either candidate has gained in their primary challenges thus far — statehouse candidates won’t report how much cash they’ve raised again until April 15. A June 11 primary will decide the intraparty contests.
Photo of Merlene, left, via Facebook
A pair of state lawmakers are pushing to revive a proposal to raise some Northern Virginia tax rates to fund Metro, a key priority of Arlington and other localities around the region feeling a budget squeeze.
A bill now backed by Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would bump up taxes slightly on real estate transactions and hotel stays in the jurisdictions that benefit from Metro service. The legislation is broadly similar to Gov. Ralph Northam’s push to raise those rates last year, as lawmakers squabbled over the best way to find a dedicated funding stream for the troubled transit service.
That effort failed, even as state lawmakers did agree on a bill to send $154 million to WMATA annually, as part of a first-of-its-kind, three-way deal with Maryland and D.C. to send dedicated money to Metro each year. Republicans, led by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), insisted on pulling cash away from other sources instead of raising taxes to pay for the deal.
Primarily, that change redirected funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that hands out sales tax money to help localities fund major transportation projects. Arlington officials, in particular, were irked to see the group lose cash, as many were counting on the NVTA to help the county fund major transportation projects while Arlington’s own budget picture grew a bit grimmer.
One of the main projects the county was hoping to fund with NVTA money — a second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station — is now set to receive millions in state funds, thanks largely to its inclusion in the deal to bring Amazon to the area.
But Arlington officials have also had to push out plans to build new entrances at the Ballston and East Falls Church Metro stations, in part due to the NVTA’s money problems. The County Board included a request for just this change as part of its legislative wish list for the new General Assembly session, and local Democrats have broadly been receptive to renewing this fight in the months since Northam’s effort failed.
The governor himself previously told ARLnow that he’d seek to bring back the tax increases to restore money for the NVTA — his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this piece of legislation.
Should it pass, the bill would send about $30 million back into the NVTA’s coffers each year, according to documents prepared for the Commonwealth Transportation Board. However, the NVTA has estimated its annual funding losses due to the Metro deal as closer to $100 million each year.
“We appreciate Del. Watts’ efforts to restore funding to the NVTA,” Executive Director Monica Backmon told ARLnow via email. “We have not conducted a detailed analysis of the bill at this time. However, we anticipate discussing this bill and others at the Feb.14 authority meeting.”
A NVTA spokeswoman added that Watts’ bill is the only one introduced this session to restore the group’s funding via the tax increases.
But with Republicans still holding narrow majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, the bill could well face an uphill battle.
Notably, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District) assigned the legislation to the House’s Rules Committee, a group of powerful lawmakers. While other committees are balanced to reflect the partisan makeup of the House, the Rules Committee is dominated by Republicans on an 11-6 margin, leading many Democrats to accuse Cox of sending bills to the committee to expedite their failures.
The group is also unique among House committees in that it can send bills directly to the floor for a vote, rather than casting a ballot on whether or not to advance the legislation. That allows Cox to force a vote from the full House on a bill, should he choose to do so.
The committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill, however.
(Updated at 3 p.m.) With Amazon gearing up to move into his neck of the woods, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) is angling to substantially beef up state spending on affordable housing development.
Lopez, who represents a variety of South Arlington neighborhoods surrounding the tech company’s planned headquarters in Crystal City and Pentagon City, is eyeing a two-pronged approach to the issue in this year’s General Assembly session.
Both of his legislative efforts involve the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a pot of money Lopez helped create back in 2016 to offer low-interest loans for developers hoping to build reasonably priced housing. Though state lawmakers have only allocated a few million dollars to the fund for the last few years, Lopez hopes to simultaneously ramp up appropriations for the program and find a more stable source of funding for it going forward.
Leaders in Arlington and Alexandria have both committed to send more resources to local programs targeting housing affordability in the wake of Amazon’s big announcement, but those efforts will only be designed to target the communities surrounding the tech giant’s new office space. And with most prognosticators predicting that the 25,000 Amazon employees set to descend on the area will choose to live all over the Northern Virginia region, Lopez sees a clear need for a state-level solution.
“This is a statewide problem,” Lopez told ARLnow. “And I believe affordable housing is a quality of life issue in Virginia, and it’s something we should be funding in the same breath as transit, transportation, environmental protection and education.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has already proposed sending $19 million to the housing fund over the next two years as part of his latest budget proposal. That change would make $20 million available for the current fiscal year, and another $10 million available the year after that.
But Lopez is envisioning an even larger amount heading to the fund, and he’s planning on proposing a one-time, $50-million influx to make a difference right away.
The amount might seem small compared to the state’s mammoth budget, but Lopez expects it could make a big difference — he points out that the fund has already helped kick start two projects along Columbia Pike in just the last few years alone.
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, notes that the trust is “currently a small source of funding that is spread fairly thin across the state.” That means even Northam’s proposal, to say nothing of Lopez’s more ambitious ask, would be a “quantum leap” forward for the state, according to Michelle Krocker, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.
“Federal housing dollars are really diminishing, so it’s increasingly up to state and local governments to fund this stuff,” Krocker said. “Arlington has been a leader on this…but the state of Virginia is being fairly negligent, to put it mildly, in providing resources through the trust fund.”
Accordingly, Winters expects even a modest increase would prove to be meaningful, in Arlington and elsewhere.
“Even though it is small, any source of funding to help fill the gap in an affordable housing project’s budget is very valuable and can help make some more projects feasible,” Winters wrote in an email.
Yet Lopez also sees a clear need to make affordable housing funding a bit more predictable going forward.
Currently, Lopez laments that he has to go “hat in hand” to appropriators on General Assembly committees, urging them each year to set aside money for the trust fund. He’d much rather see lawmakers set up a dedicated funding stream to ensure regular, stable contributions to the loan program each year.
Accordingly, Lopez is backing a bill to establish such a funding mechanism — in essence, the legislation would pull away an annual percentage of surplus revenue from state “recordation” taxes, or levies on home transactions.
He’s proposed such legislation in the past, and acknowledge that it could face an uphill battle this time around — lawmakers with power over the state’s purse strings may be loathe to give up any budgetary discretion, after all.
Even the one-time cash infusion could prove difficult for Lopez to achieve, considering that Republicans have already declared Northam’s budget proposals “dead on arrival,” as a fight over tax revenues brews in the General Assembly.
“We’re all very concerned that with Republicans being so opposed to the governor’s amendments… that we’ll really have to wait and see whether the governor’s housing trust fund plans survives these deliberations,” Krocker said.
It doesn’t help matters either that some key lawmakers (and even some Northam administration officials) shied away from including more affordable housing money in the state’s proposal to Amazon, arguing localities and developers are better suited to fund this kind of development.
But Lopez is “hopeful” that the grave concerns raised about the housing market in the wake of Amazon’s announcement could help change minds on the issue, and he’ll certainly have allies among Arlington’s legislative delegation.
“Housing will be an issue here for at least a decade or more,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “Amazon coming in won’t change all that dramatically, but it does increase the urgency for affordable housing and putting funding behind this.”
As Amazon moves into Arlington, it seems the company is ready to start spreading some of the wealth around to local lawmakers — but, so far, one has already turned down the tech giant’s cash.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow that Amazon sent him $1,000 in late October to back his re-election effort this year, just before announcing that it plans to set up a new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City. In fact, Lopez’s South Arlington district covers some of the locations that the tech firm eventually plans to call home.
Yet Lopez says he quickly returned the contribution once Amazon formally selected Arlington, in order to avoid any implication that the company will influence his decision making in Richmond, no matter how small.
“While I would never allow a campaign contribution to affect my judgement as an elected official, trust in the government is essential,” Lopez wrote in a newsletter to constituents today (Monday) announcing his decision. “Constituents should have no doubts about the independence of my judgement, or think there are any motivations beyond doing what is right for the community. This is the right thing to do. Fostering trust in government is more important now than ever.”
Lawmakers are currently gearing up to vote on an incentive package that could someday send anywhere between $550 million and $750 million in state grant money to Amazon, so long as the company comes through on its promise to bring at least 25,000 jobs to the area. Legislators will also be charged with signing off on hundreds of millions more in transportation and education spending designed to lure the company to Arlington, likely to be included as part of a bill adjusting the state’s biennial budget.
Though the company has attracted plenty of criticism locally, the General Assembly is broadly expected to approve the incentives (negotiated primarily by Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff) by a wide margin. Yet Lopez’s move comes as Democratic politicians all over Virginia wrestle with the influence of corporations on the state’s politics.
A growing number of Democrats, Lopez included, have pledged to refuse money from state-regulated monopolies like Dominion Energy, long the biggest political donor in the state. Northam has also backed a ban on corporate donations of any kind in state elections, and Lopez has recently drawn a primary challenger pledging not to accept any cash from corporations.
In a separate bit of controversy, activists have targeted Lopez for scorn after he reported earning thousands of dollars from a company that runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia.
In general, however, Amazon has yet to chip in much money for Virginia lawmakers, even though the company has long operated a variety of offices and data centers around the state.
But the tech firm did send Lopez $250 back in October 2017, and donated $5,000 to Northam’s inaugural committee last January. Amazon has also contributed $11,000 to the influential Northern Virginia Technology Council, and currently retains the services of nine lobbyists registered in Richmond, according to state records.
As for how much money the tech company has since donated to other state lawmakers, that won’t become clear until legislators submit final campaign finance reports covering the second half of 2018 tomorrow (Tuesday). All 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot this fall, and will soon begin reporting campaign contributions on a more regular basis.