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Virginia Politics
Posted at 11:11 AM ET, 12/07/2011

Fairfax County Board adopts legislative initiatives that ask Richmond to back off

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a legislative package that asks the Virginia General Assembly for the same thing the county almost always asks for.

“I think the simple message is, ‘Please try to leave us alone,’ ” Supervisor Jeff McKay said.

The county’s annual wishlist also includes other perennial desires: that Northern Virginia taxpayers see more of the money they send to Richmond, for example, and that lawmakers identify a new regular source of revenue to patch its needy transportation network.

There are stated hopes for new laws that would criminalize the financial exploitation of elderly people and disruptive demonstrations at funerals, and there is a request for $150 million to push Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

But, overall, the county would be pleased if the Virginia General Assembly would stop using Northern Virginia as its piggybank, refrain from pawning off the responsibility for the upkeep of its roads, and let local officials police air guns as they see fit, especially on school property.

Perhaps highest on the county’s list is its request that the state capital make up for previous funding cuts to its counties and cities.

McKay (D-Lee), who chairs the legislative committee, noted that the General Assembly reduced state aid to localities by more than $1 billion from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2011. Fairfax County has had to give back about $4.5 million a year, county officials said.

As a percentage of state general fund spending, the commonwealth’s contribution to K-12 education dropped from 35 percent to less than 30 percent between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012, which began July 1.

As for transportation, the package notes that funding for the county’s secondary roads declined from $29 million in fiscal 2004 to zero in fiscal 2011 and 2011. Yet only 60 percent of all roads in the county have pavement that can be rated “fair” or better--far below the statewide average. The program says Northern Virginia needs at least $700 million a year to address its transportation problems.

At the same time, the county’s legislative program notes that Richmond has been shifting more costs and responsibilities onto local jurisdictions in almost every area. For example, the General Assembly shifted costs to localities for its Virginia Line of Duty program, which provides benefits to public safety officers or their beneficiaries as a result of death or disability, and for judiciary operations.

This year, Fairfax County officials are also making it clear that they do not want the state to transfer responsibility for secondary road maintenance to Fairfax County--a phenomenon known as devolution--especially if Richmond hands off the responsibility without the funds.

Fairfax County’s 2012 legislative program also opposes altering the state’s constitution to create new create new protections on private property.

The constitutional amendment, which passed the General Assembly this year with the support of conservatives and tea party activists, would prohibit government from seizing private property through eminent domain for the purpose of economic development or job creation. The measure is intended to address a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. New London, that upheld the Connecticut town’s taking of private property for redevelopment.

If Virginia’s proposed constitutional amendment goes through, government could seize land only for public uses, such as roads, and it would have to compensate its owner in full. (To alter the Virginia constitution, an amendment must pass the General Assembly twice, with an election in between. Voters must then give their approval through referendum.)

Fairfax County officials say the proposed constitutional restrictions go well beyond the constitution and a 2007 statute passed in response to the Supreme Court ruling and could hamper efforts to undertake projects for community safety or quality of life.

The county also seeks authority to ban air guns on school grounds. The request arose after the county took action to comply with a new state law that bars local jurisdictions from prohibiting people from shooting pneumatic guns on private property. In amending the county code, supervisors sought to keep language that bars air guns on school property. County officials argue that air guns could cause mayhem on a school campus, particularly because some resemble lethal firearms. The county also suggested that students who use them in school-sanctioned sports could be exempted.

This year’s wishlist does not include a request to impose an additional 2-percent lodging tax to build a conference center, despite the board’s interest in doing so. County officials who support taxing the hospitality industry to lure more visitors for a conference center say the initiative for the tax has to come from the business community.

By  |  11:11 AM ET, 12/07/2011

 
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