The Democrats running for Arlington County Board and the Virginia House of Delegates say they are united with the Board in its desire to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway.
Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall and incumbent House of Delegates candidates Mark Levine, Patrick Hope, Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez praised the County Board’s stand. In a statement, an excerpt of which is below, all five applauded what they described as “a powerful statement from the Arlington County Board rejecting racism and bigotry.”
The county will need to first obtain the legal authority to rename both stretches of state highway within its borders, an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. But the incumbents pledged to try to do so, so the county can choose “who in our history we want to honor and celebrate.”
Erik Gutshall, Democratic nominee for Arlington County Board, said “I am proud to live in a community that has long shared the values of diversity and inclusion. I fully embrace the County Board’s determination to garner local control of the names of our roadways, as I know Arlington’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly do.”
“It’s long past time for us to rename highways that were labeled to send a hateful and divisive message to people of color in our community,” said Delegate Alfonso Lopez (49th District), House Democratic Whip. “I look forward to working with the Arlington County Board to make sure they have the necessary authority from the General Assembly to make these important changes.”
Delegate Patrick Hope (47th District) said, “I have long-supported the renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway in Arlington and commend the Arlington County Board for this bold statement of leadership. I look forward to supporting legislation to grant Arlington and all localities the freedom to rename buildings, roads, and to remove monuments that do not reflect our values.”
“Giving localities the authority to rename highways — like Jefferson Davis Highway — is long overdue,” said Delegate Rip Sullivan (48th District), “This is not about erasing or trying to change history — indeed, we must never forget the evil that led to our Civil War. Rather, this is about a community choosing who in our history we want to honor and celebrate. Arlington County should have that choice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ This matters, and I applaud the County Board for choosing not to be silent on this important issue.”
“I’m very pleased that the Arlington County Board is committed to renaming the Jefferson Davis Highway, ” said Delegate Mark Levine (45th District). “Changing those street signs will no longer honor the Mississippi traitor (with little or no connection to Arlington) who was President of a rebellious group of states that seceded from the union to enforce and protect their cruel and odious institution of slavery. Street signs bearing the current name of this highway do a gross injustice to Arlingtonians who are loyal to their nation and who abhor slavery. I know the vast majority of us are looking forward to seeing these signs no more.”
A pair of recent Yorktown High School graduates were behind Sunday’s rally to condemn the weekend’s events in Charlottesville.
Julian Lopez-Leyva and Justin Wu, both 2016 Yorktown graduates who have just completed their first year of college, decided to put the event together late Saturday night to “actively condemn bigotry and racial hatred through a series of speeches, songs, actions, and a moment of silence.”
Lopez-Leyva is a Political Science major with a minor in Economics at Emmanuel College in Boston, while Wu studies Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech.
They said in interviews Monday that they did not fully expect to see 200 people and a slew of elected officials in attendance in Courthouse, all wanting to come together and heal.
“Initially I expected only 10 people to come out, but it ended up being around 200 people and that blew my mind,” Lopez-Leyva said. “But I think that also spoke to me understanding that it wasn’t only me that was fed up, it was so many other people, and that solidarity was an imperative. We just really have to speak up, and I think speaking up is the right move.”
The pair organized the event through Facebook, and also reached out to local grassroots political group Indivisible Arlington for help getting the word out. Attendance snowballed from that initial Facebook event post. (ARLnow.com also tweeted about it.)
“When we first started organizing this, I had reservations thinking it was too quick a turnaround and that we wouldn’t be able to get the word out in time since we started so late at night,” Wu said.
The rally included poetry readings and speeches by activist Gayle Fleming, Dels. Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope and Mark Keam, as well as Arlington County Board vice chair Katie Cristol.
Wu said he was struck by how many people have connections to Charlottesville, whether through themselves or family and friends attending the University of Virginia in the city or in other ways.
“It was powerful to see that an event in Charlottesville had an effect all the way out here in Northern Virginia, and how everyone is all connected to this,” Wu said.
And while neither had organized an event like this before, they agreed it was heartening to see such turnout, especially among young people.
“I think students are really going to be the leaders of our world in the future, so I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving Arlington but I’m happy that I have the potential to speak up among so many other people who are like-minded, maybe not so like-minded, but regardless are around the same age range as myself and who have the duress to really say something,” Lopez-Leyva said.
The event ended with a period for conversation and asking questions, like the sorts of town halls hosted regularly by politicians and businesses. Lopez-Leyva said that kind of communication and understanding each other will be key to help unite the country again.
“People and conversations are some of the most powerful weapons in the world,” he said. “I think the voice is innumerably more powerful than any sort of physical weapon, any sort of fist, anything we saw in Charlottesville. I think the discussion on any side of the aisle, no matter where you’re coming from, I think that’s an imperative if you really want to bring this country back together.”
Photos by Peter Golkin
(Updated 3:45 p.m.) Three of Arlington’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates are without an opponent this fall.
Given the lack of locally competitive races in November, when the House’s entire 100 seats are up for grabs, the lawmakers are looking at opportunities to help fellow Democrats to pick up seats elsewhere.
Democratic Dels. Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan — who are unopposed, as is Del. Patrick Hope — say they have their eyes on the statewide races, and have thrown their support behind Democratic nominees Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring, who are running for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Additionally, in the House, local elected officials see real opportunities to make gains.
So instead of having to purely campaign to defend their own seats, they have looked further afield to try and cut into Republicans’ advantage, particularly through fundraising for candidates.
Democrats now have 88 candidates for the House, including incumbents running for re-election. That list includes more women running than men, four LGBT candidates as well as African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Sullivan, who is the House Democratic Caucus’ campaign chair, launched Project Blue Dominion, a Political Action Committee to help recruit, train and fund candidates across Virginia.
He has sent out regular emails entitled “Flip-a-District Fridays” profiling the new candidates, and the PAC reported to the Virginia Department of Elections that it received $4,296 in contributions through the end of the last filing period on June 30.
“We are very excited about our current position,” Sullivan said. “We have a remarkably diverse group of candidates, some very accomplished candidates. It is the largest group of candidates we’ve had in a long, long time… We are running in parts of the state we haven’t run in in a long time.”
High School Proposals on the Table in June — A pair of proposals for adding high school seats are on the table at Arlington School Board meetings next month. The board is expected to approve a $3.6 million construction contract for adding 300 seats to Wakefield High School, while Superintendent Patrick Murphy will recommend the board approve a “hybrid” option for adding another 1,300 seats, with 600 seats at the Education Center site near Washington-Lee and 700 at the Arlington Career Center. Despite the added capacity, Murphy expects that it will eventually be necessary to build a new 2,200 seat comprehensive high school to keep up with rising enrollment. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
Marriott’s Longest-Standing Employee Is in Crystal City — Cecil Exum, a 79-year-old omelette maker at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, is Marriott’s longest-standing employee. He’s been with the company for 61 years, since the Marriott family ran a “Hot Shoppes” root beer stand and opened its first hotel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington. [Washington Post]
POTUS at ANC on Memorial Day — “President Donald Trump honored those who lost their lives serving the nation as he participated in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Monday and told emotional stories of just a few who perished.” [Daily Mail]
Cars Towed During Clarendon Memorial Day Ceremony — Some veterans attending the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the war memorial in Clarendon reportedly had their cars towed from a bank parking lot nearby. Del. Patrick Hope (D) tweeted photos of the cars being towed and called it “disgusting.” He directed the tweet at Del. Tim Hugo (R), the sponsor of the bill (now law) that blocked Arlington County from enforcing a “second signature” requirement for certain trespass tows. [Twitter]
Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
Arlington County’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly will hold its annual public hearing to discuss with residents the legislative priorities for the new General Assembly session that begins on January 11.
The public hearing will be held on Thursday, January 5, in the Arlington County Board Room (2100 Clarendon Blvd., #300) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Citizens can sign up on the night of the hearing to address the legislators. Each speaker will have up to three minutes.
“The direct participation of an active citizenry helps me represent the 30th District more effectively,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin. “I encourage and welcome all residents… to attend our delegation’s hearings.”
Some of the legislation on the 2017 roster that has been proposed by Arlington representatives includes:
- Paid family leave, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: Under this legislation, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry would develop an implementation plan for a paid family leave program.
- Reporting lost or stolen firearms, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: This bill would require a person who legally possesses a firearm to report its loss or theft to police within 24 hours of discovering that it’s missing.
- Same-sex marriage, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would repeal the parts of Virginia’s constitution banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.
- Governor’s term of office, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would allow Virginia’s governor to serve consecutive terms. Currently, governors cannot run again immediately after serving one four-year term, but they can run again in a future election.
- Firearm locks, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: The bill would make it illegal to sell or transfer a handgun to anyone without the person being provided with a locking device for the handgun.
- No-excuse absentee voting, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: This would make it acceptable for any registered voter to vote absentee in person without having to provide a reason.
- Required immunizations, proposed by Del. Patrick Hope: The bill would require children to receive an immunization for meningococcal disease (which causes bacterial meningitis) in order to attend school.
Advisory Board Wants Birthday Cake Banned from Schools — Student birthday celebrations are getting out of hand in Arlington Public Schools, with too many sugary treats being consumed as a result. That’s the view of the Student Health Advisory Board, which made its case to the School Board last week. Some individual schools in Arlington have banned birthday celebrations or, at least, sweet birthday treats. The overall school system, however, does not currently have a formal policy on the matter. [InsideNova]
Del. Hope Wants to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ — Del. Patrick Hope (D) has introduced a bill to ban so-called conversion therapy for minors in Virginia. Practitioners of the controversial “therapy” claim that it can change the sexual orientation of individuals from homosexual to heterosexual. [Washington Blade]
The Corner Tex-Mix Lives? — Despite being pronounced dead by ARLnow and Google, it appears that The Corner Tex-Mix at 1621 S. Walter Reed Drive was open last night, at least for a short period of time. A tipster said lights were on and an employee answered the phone and confirmed they were open, shortly before a power outage sent everyone home. The county health department confirmed to ARLnow this morning that there have been no health code violations that would have closed the restaurant temporarily. The tipster said The Corner Tex-Mix seems to just be keeping “odd hours.” [ARLnow]
‘WeLive’ Apartments to Feature Free Cleaning, Sunday Supper — Details of a new apartment building in Manhattan from co-working company WeWork have been released, and they’re likely to also apply to the company’s second “WeLive” building, in Crystal City. The apartments will be fully furnished and will have cable TV, monthly cleaning and a communal Sunday supper included, among other amenities. [UrbanTurf]
$5 Ribs from Texas Jack’s Barbecue — Ribs at the recently-opened Texas Jack’s Barbecue in Lyon Park will cost you around $5. As in, nearly five bucks per rib. The restaurant, in the former Tallula and EatBar space, features a menu of smoked meat created by Executive Chef Matt Lang, winner of the Food Network’s Best in Smoke 2011 and formerly of Hill Country Barbecue in D.C. [DCist]
Va. Voter Registration Deadline Approaches — The deadline to vote in Virginia’s March 1 presidential primary is Monday, Feb. 8. On the GOP side, the election will feature a somewhat controversial loyalty pledge requested by the state party. “Voters who wish to vote in the Republican Primary must first sign the following non-binding statement, which is permitted under § 24.2-545.A of the Code of Virginia: ‘My signature below indicates that I am a Republican,'” county officials note. In-person absentee voting, meanwhile, starts Friday. [Arlington County]
(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Del. Patrick Hope (D) has introduced a bill to the Virginia General Assembly that would eliminate the 35 percent commission the state charges on all phone calls made by prison inmates.
The proposed bill — which is now in committee for consideration and must pass there before going before the full House of Delegates — would amend an existing bill by adding a sentence stating no state agency will receive such commission payments.
The commission comes from charges paid by inmates and recipients of calls made from prison. It generates approximately $2.6 million a year, Hope said. Those funds go directly into the Virginia’s general fund.
“I’ve introduced a similar bill for the last four or five years, each time only to see it pass committee and die in appropriations due to lack of funding,” he said in an email. “So we agree on the policy but just not how to pay for it.”
Hope justified his support of this bill by explaining that inmates staying in touch with their families while incarcerated improves the situation for all parties involved.
“The added cost from this commission makes it very difficult for those incarcerated to stay connected with family,” he said. “Studies show the importance of maintaining frequent communication between the incarcerated and their family members, particularly related to recidivism rates, their own conduct in prison, and the overall well-being of families, especially those with young children.”
He has also testified in front of the Federal Communications Commission on this issue in the past. The agency recently acted to lower call costs and indicated support for eliminating commissions on those calls.
Phone service in state prisons in Virginia is provided by GTL, a Reston-based company that bills itself as the “corrections innovation leader.” According to the website prisonphonejustice.org, the rate for a 15 minute call from an inmate was as high as $6 in 2014. The website refers to the commission paid by GTL to the Commonwealth as a “kickback.”
For Hope, the issue is a humanitarian one.
“It is my continued belief that the correct policy in Virginia should be to make the costs of telephone communication between inmates and family as inexpensive as possible,” he said. “We want to encourage greater communication, and Virginia should not view this part of our prison system as a cost center to fund other parts of the budget.”
Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly legislative session is scheduled last for 60 days, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on March 12.
Del. Patrick Hope is calling on Virginia lawmakers and Gov. Terry McAuliffe to pass a bill requiring universal background checks for gun sales conducted in the Commonweatlth.
Spurred by the recent shooting in Roanoke, Virginia, Hope took to the Internet, creating a petition on Change.org about universal background checks. The petition received more than 20,000 signatures in the first 24 hours, Hope said. As of today, more than 28,000 people had signed.
“People are angry,” Hope said. “People are angry by the inaction.”
Hope joined seven other Virginia delegates at a press conference in front of the Arlington County courthouse Thursday, talking about the need for universal background checks.
“We’re here today committed to do something about gun violence,” he said during the press conference. “We’re here today because we’ve grown really sick and tired that every single day we hear that there’s another mass shooting, and that we do nothing.”
According to hope, universal background checks are an easy, noncontroversial measure that can be changed and most voters support them.
“No responsible gun owner is afraid of a background check,” he said.
Most Virginia residents believe that there is already a law in place requiring a background check before every gun sale, Hope said, which is not the case.
Currently, there is a loophole in Virginia that doesn’t require background checks for sales at gun shows. Hope said he went to a gun show and asked if he could get a gun without a background check. Instead of raising red flags, the vendors were more than happy to help him.
“It’s as easy as buying a pack of bubble gum,” he said.
There will be legislation introduced in 2016 calling for the universal background checks, according to Hope, but it has to also pass the state Senate, which has killed gun control reforms in the past. The only difference between this year and next is that 2016 is an election year.
“The only way we’re going to get legislators to change their minds is if the voters force them to,” he said.
Universal background checks won’t prevent every tragedy, Hope said, pointing to the Roanoke shooting, where the shooter legally bought a gun, but it can prevent some.
“If we can prevent one incident from occurring, then we should do it,” Hope said.
Photo courtesy Blue Virginia
In order for Virginia to move forward on issues like medicaid expansion and climate change, more Democrats need to be elected to House of Delegates, said Democratic House of Delegates candidates Del. Patrick Hope, Del. Rip Sullivan and Mark Levine.
The candidates spoke to the Arlington County Democratic Committee last night to announce their candidacy and touch on why they need Democratic support in the upcoming November election.
While all candidates spoke briefly on ideas they felt need attention, such as Medicaid expansion or better mental health care, most of the speeches focused on how Republicans in the House of Delegates were blocking important laws or passing laws that the candidates said would be dangerous for Virginia.
“Let’s call it for what it is. Republicans are killing their constituents,” said Hope, who is running for the 47th District seat. “They are killing their constituents by not expanding healthcare insurance to them. We know that’s a fact that people die when they don’t have health insurance. They’re killing them by pushing coal.”
Hope will face Independent Green candidate Janet Murphy in the Nov. 3 general election.
Republicans have refused to allow any conversation about Medicaid expansion in the General Assembly, Sullivan said.
“They’re not going to start talking about it, as my friend Patrick Hope has said before, until they start losing elections over this issue,” he said. “And we need to have some of them lose elections over this medicaid issue.”
Sullivan, who is running unopposed for the 48th District seat, warned that Republicans were also very close to passing “dangerous” legislation last year. He cited a proposed bill that would legalize switchblades, ninja stars and spring-loaded weapons that he said “flew” through House committees. He said the bill would have passed the House of Delegates, but Republican majority reversed their opinions, a move he attributed to it being a reelection year.
In order to get more Democrats elected, the three candidates plan to talk to Virginia residents in areas that elect Republicans. Levine, who is thus far running unopposed for the 45th District, announced that he would be making a trip around Virginia to talk to residents and boost Democratic candidates.
“We’ve got to elect more Democrats, not just in Arlington, but in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.
Levine recently argued for more gun control at conservative conference in Denver, Colorado and said that he was able to convince some National Rifle Administration members to think about stricter gun regulations, such as better background checks. If elected, Levine said he also wants to start talking about mental health, education and jail time for drug users.
“We put too many people in jail. I don’t think non-violent drug users should go to jail,” he said.
The 5-4 ruling was almost immediately decried by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, but others in the county have enthusiastically endorsed the landmark decision.
Board member Jay Fisette, who in 1997 became the first openly gay elected official in Virginia, said he was overjoyed by today’s ruling.
“I had absolutely no idea that this day would come in my lifetime — let alone while I was still in office,” said Fisette. “The Court’s action validates the lives of millions of Americans, reinforces the value of equality to our nation, and puts us in step with the civilized free nations on the planet.”
Board member Libby Garvey echoed Fisette’s excitement about the Supreme Court decision, telling ARLnow that she was delighted by the news and had “been exchanging happy texts this morning with my sister and her wife and other family.”
In a statement today, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the vote “an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights, and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”
“I am proud we put Virginia on the right side of history on this issue,” Herring said, referencing the fact that gay marriage has been legal in Virginia since 2014. Herring held a press conference about marriage equality outside the Arlington County courthouse this afternoon.
Don Beyer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 8th district, also issued a statement this morning in which he applauded the Supreme Court and called the nationwide guarantee of marriage equality a “watershed moment in American history.”
“Gay rights are human rights and today we have ensured that all Americans, regardless of their sexuality, have the right to share the rest of their lives with the person they love,” said Beyer. “I could not be prouder to stand with my LGBTQ constituents and celebrate this incredible moment.”
Several of the area’s gay pride groups have upcoming events where residents can celebrate. The Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance is hosting a Pride Month Social this Sunday evening from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St S.), and NOVA Pride has a SCOTUS Ruling Happy Hour scheduled for Monday night at A-Town Bar & Grill (4100 Fairfax Drive) from 5-10 p.m.
Arlington officials cautioned that this ruling only deals with one aspect of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, however. According to Fisette, the next big LGBTQ issue facing the nation is employment discrimination, and though some local governments — like Arlington’s — prohibit hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, many still don’t.
“In most states, including Virginia, it is legal to fire someone simply because they are gay,” said Fisette.
Delegate Patrick A. Hope of the Virginia General Assembly agreed with Fisette, saying “Tomorrow, we must continue our efforts to end LGBT discrimination in other areas, such as in workplace, with the goal to treat every American fairly and equally.”
Two Democratic state legislators who represent parts of north Arlington, Dels. Rip Sullivan and Patrick Hope, have endorsed Fallon, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 9 Democratic primary.
Fallon placed a distant third in last year’s County Board primary, picking up 18 percent of the vote compared to 52 percent for Democratic nominee Alan Howze and 30 percent for Cord Thomas. Neither Howze nor Thomas are running this year.
In an election cycle notable for a slate of younger candidates calling for change, Sullivan and Hope both cite Fallon’s long track record of community involvement, including his recent service on the Arlington Planning Commission, as a reason to vote for him.
“Peter Fallon lives and breathes Arlington,” Sullivan said, in a statement. “He has a record of deep commitment and significant contribution to the Arlington community. A long track record of community involvement and leadership. He’ll make a terrific addition to the County Board.”
“Arlington is losing a lot of experience on the County Board this year,” said Hope. “Peter Fallon has the planning expertise that the Board will need. He knows this community well, and that’s why I support Peter’s campaign and strongly encourage Arlington voters to give him one of their two votes for County Board this year.”
Hope has also endorsed Christian Dorsey in the race. Two County Board seats are open this year due to the impending retirement of Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
State Sen. Barbara Favola, who endorsed Fallon in 2014 and is quoted on his campaign website, said today via Twitter that she is “giving all 5 candidates for Arlington County Board a chance to present themselves [to] voters” before making any endorsements.
Del. Patrick Hope is chief patron of HB 2308, which allows counties with the county manager form of government — namely, Arlington — to hire an auditor with the power to “make performance reviews of operations of county agencies or county-funded programs.” The auditor would ensure money is being spent wisely and evaluate the effectiveness of those agencies and programs.
The bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously yesterday.
“I believe in the case of Arlington, where we have more than a $1 billion operating budget and over 3,000 employees, localities who don’t already have this authority will be seeking it to ensure government is working as efficiently as possible,” Hope told ARLnow.com in an email today. “If this authority is exercised, I think it will give Arlington residents an added level of confidence that their taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”
Currently, the County Board only has the authority to hire a county manager, county clerk and county attorney. County Board member John Vihstadt has been pushing for the county to hire an independent auditor since his election last April. If Hope’s bill passes the state Senate and is signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — which Hope expects, but “I’ve learned over the years you never know” — the Board will begin to deliberate hiring its own independent auditor.
Board member Jay Fisette serves as the five-member panel’s legislative liaision, and is a former auditor himself. He said Hope’s bill is “another tool to consider” as the county develops its budget for the next fiscal year. Fisette said the county used to have several auditing mechanisms, but many of them were cut during the economic recession.
At one point, the county had an audit committee with a $100,000 budget that evaluated performance contracts, Fisette said. A decade ago, the county had two internal auditors ensuring that money wasn’t being spent fraudulently, but budget cuts have meant those services are now contracted out.
“The manager has been working to hire an internal auditor, and we had a great candidate who backed out,” Fisette said. He added that the Board supports Hope’s legislation. “We will set up, in the next few months, the best way to support that audit function. Who would oversee the work plan if they are going to report to us.”
Hope said the state Senate will likely consider the bill within the next two weeks.
But the estimated 400,000 state residents who do not have health insurance will have to continue to wait after Hope’s healthcare bill, HB 2212, was defeated by voice vote by a House of Delegates subcommittee.
“Disappointed my bill [to] expand access to 400k Virginians was defeated,” Hope tweeted yesterday. “The uninsured aren’t going away; neither am I.”
Hope has been the lead delegate in the House of Delegates’ Democratic Caucus on health care, with efforts again focused on expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. The issue is one of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s priorities for this legislative session.
Speaking to ARLnow.com last week, Hope said he believed bipartisan support was possible for his bill, either in its proposed form or after amendments.
“I’m optimistic we are going to pass this bill or a version of it,” he said. “Virginia is getting closer and closer to that day. We really can’t ignore the economics of this. It’s mainly because we’re really double and triple taxing our residents every single day if we don’t do anything.”
The state’s wealthier residents are already paying taxes to fund federal Medicaid expansion, Hope said, and if Virginia doesn’t expand Medicaid, the money “goes right to Washington, not us.” In addition, Hope said, hospitals that care for uninsured patients who can’t pay their bills pass on the expenses in the forms of higher premiums and costs to those paying for insurance.
Hope said expanding Medicaid would inject $2 billion into the economy by covering holes in the budget, creating Medicaid-related jobs and lowering premiums. The state budgets $200 million for prison reform, mental illness and indigent care, Hope said, all of which would be covered by Medicaid and the federal government.
“Virginia families all over the commonwealth are one accident or one illness away from financial ruin,” Hope said. “The economics are so overwhelming, and I just don’t see how much longer we can walk away from $2 billion because people will still be getting sick.”
On the phone from Richmond this morning, Hope was defiant about expanding Medicaid, saying Republicans are putting “politics before economics” in a year every member of the General Assembly is up for re-election. Thirty states have voted to expand Medicaid, he said, 10 of which have Republican governors.
“Virginia’s just not there in an election year,” he said. “I think it’s just going to reach a point where we can no longer let our politics get in the way of what’s right. I generally have a policy of when I see $2 billion on the ground, I pick it up.”
State Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents the westernmost part of Arlington as well as a large chunk of Fairfax County, called the state’s budget outlook “bleak” while praising Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget, which closes the projected shortfall through a series of tax changes and spending cuts. However, Howell and other Democrats say the budget doesn’t go far enough in improving the state’s K-12 education system.
“Fortunately, the Governor’s budget closes the budget gap. His budget is balanced,” Howell said in a newsletter to her constituents. “What we do not have, however, is any real ability to make investments in public education, higher education, human services, or workforce development.
“Direct aid to public education has been spared additional state cuts,” she continued. “However, unless we have a sudden, unexpected upswing in our economy, we will have to jettison a proposed and deserved salary increase. For context, in terms of per pupil general funds for public education, by FY 2016 we will be just back to FY 2008 levels on a statewide basis.”
This past summer, McAuliffe announced Virginia was projected to have a $2.4 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. Much of that deficit, Howell said at a recent Arlington Democrats meeting, can be traced back to cuts from the federal budget sequestration and the layoffs at government contractors it prompted.
Additional revenue growth has since reduced the deficit, and cuts to the state prison system and elsewhere have saved millions. Del. Patrick Hope (D) says the closing of tax loopholes for some corporations — most notably coal producers — are necessary to even preserve the current level of education funding.
“There are a lot of companies in Virgina that don’t pay any taxes,” Hope told ARLnow.com yesterday. “We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars that Virginia gives out every year to companies for job creation, and research is coming out that that’s not happening today. We need to take a hard look at what those tax credits are, and if they’re not doing what the intended purposes are, we need to pull it back.”
Hope said a state yacht tax credit should also be stripped — “I can’t look my voters in the eye if I vote for a budget” that includes that tax credit, he said — but said that the budget should become more ambitious in terms of education spending. Funding K-12 education millions of dollars less than before the recession, without accounting for inflation, isn’t enough, he said.
“There’s no reason why spending shouldn’t go in the opposite direction,” he said. “We are out of the recession now, it’s time to fill those holes back up.”
Although some form of a balanced budget is expected to pass — which may include cuts to education, according to Hope, if the Republican-controlled General Assembly balks at the loophole cuts — Howell said the realities of the budget situation don’t figure to change anytime soon, especially after the sequester’s cuts to federal defense spending.
“Growth has halted or declined in the good-paying ($77k+/year) jobs in the ‘business and professional services’ categories. Instead, we are seeing more growth in lower-paying jobs, such as health, leisure and hospitality ($45k/year on average),” Howell wrote. “Unfortunately, no one believes this situation is a temporary one.”
State Loan for Potomac Yard Metro — Virginia is providing a $50 million low-interest loan to Alexandria for construction of the future Potomac Yard Metro station. Previously, the Commonwealth offered Arlington up to $65 million for the now-cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar project. [Washington Post]
Hope Wants to Link Child Support, Gun Permits — Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) has proposed legislation that would revoke concealed handgun permits for Virginia residents who fall more than 90 days or $5,000 behind on child support payments. [InsideNova]
Eden Center Damage Estimate — Damage to the Eden Center, caused by an explosion on Jan. 14, is estimated to be more than $1 million. The Falls Church fire marshal determined the explosion to be accidental, caused by “improper use of propane and oxygen.”
Arlington Offers Cash Bikeshare Memberships — To serve those without bank accounts, Arlington County is now offering county residents cash-only Capital Bikeshare memberships. Normally, memberships require a credit card, so that Bikeshare can charge $1,000 if the bike goes missing. [Arlington County, Streetsblog]
No News Coverage Today — In observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, ARLnow.com will only be covering breaking news today. Our regular news coverage will resume tomorrow. See our list of county government closures for the holiday.
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf