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Local Ties May Not Hold in Richmond

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page VA05

RICHMOND -- It would seem logical that as the largest county represented in the State Capitol during the annual session of the Virginia legislature, Fairfax residents could count on their local leaders to carry some clout.

We are not talking about influence in the General Assembly as a whole: Fairfax, being not only big but also wealthy, has for years seen its priorities stymied by regional rivalries with rural and urban lawmakers.

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This is about Fairfax's state representatives working for the interests of their local lawmakers, all representing the same constituents. Or do they?

County supervisors say they have often found themselves fighting the battle of Fairfax vs. Fairfax in the legislative session scheduled to end this week.

"It is frustrating that we're not always singing from the same hymnal," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said last week, heading down the stairs of Old City Hall to the county's second annual reception for its Richmond delegation. "It's a rare event when a member of the General Assembly consults with a member of the board" in determining which bills to sponsor or support, he said.

In the last six weeks, the Board of Supervisors has lobbied for the defeat of bills limiting affordable housing, curtailing developers' contributions for schools and other services, requiring a referendum on extending Metrorail through Tysons Corner to Dulles International Airport and demanding that immigrants supply proof that they are in the country legally before they can receive local or state services.

Of course, the supervisors and delegation see eye to eye on hundreds of other bills. When the county saw that the House version of Gov. Mark R. Warner's proposed transportation package was short on public transit funding for Fairfax, given its large population, Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) was able to tweak the bill's language to add more.

It's a handful of other bills that Fairfax officials have spent weeks fighting, through visits to Richmond, phone calls and e-mails to patch a disconnect that's part partisan, part inadvertent and part a reflection of the influence of campaign donations.

Democrats dominate the county board 7-3, and the General Assembly delegation from Fairfax has 16 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R), who represents the Centreville area, arguably is the most conservative, an ardent foe of tax increases and public spending on rail, and the sponsor of the Metrorail referendum bill, which was swiftly killed by a Senate committee. Connolly calls the bill "odious" and says polls show a majority of Fairfax residents support the rail project. But Cuccinelli disagrees. "If they're so sure of it, why are they afraid to put it on the ballot?" he said, munching on a beef satay hors d'oeuvre.

Sometimes it's Democrats who get in the county's cross hairs, though. Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-Fairfax) co-sponsored a bill that sets time limits on when localities must use developers' contributions, called proffers, or return the money. But the county insisted such constraints would be crippling, since it often pools contributions over several years to build a new school, for example, where it's needed. County lobbyists went into overdrive, succeeding last week in getting the time limit stretched to 10 years from five.

Amundson says she agreed to carry the bill after several builders in her district complained that local governments weren't using the money they had upfront. "When business people in your district tell you it's a real problem, you give your word," she said. One of Amundson's biggest campaign donors last year was the Homebuilders political action committee, with $1,555.

Del. Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax) last week pulled his bill to limit an affordable housing program in Alexandria and Arlington that, in an early version, would have hurt the affordable housing trust fund that Fairfax sets aside.

"The pledge you take is not to represent Fairfax County alone," Reese said. "I'm very sympathetic to Fairfax issues, but Virginia is not Fairfax-centric."

Early this week, county officials were nervously watching the fate of GOP Del. David B. Albo's legislation on services to immigrants, which as of Tuesday had sailed through the House and a Senate committee.

Supervisors fear the bill would create onerous red tape for people here legally and deny basic services to tens of thousands of newcomers in Fairfax, which is fast becoming a county of immigrants.

"It's one thing when you decide to come up with legislation," Connolly said. "It's another thing when you have to take responsibility for providing services and executing the laws."

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