Richmond Takes On New Year, Old Issues
Thursday, January 4, 2007
When the General Assembly convenes Wednesday, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) will seek billions for roads and transit, lawmakers and local leaders from Northern Virginia will back him enthusiastically and a Republican majority in the House of Delegates will stand resolutely against higher taxes.
"We're doing more than our share," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "We need, of course, the General Assembly to do its share."
Expect to see in the 2007 legislative session many of the transportation proposals that failed last year, including one promoted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that would have raised and spent $417 million annually on road and transit improvements in Northern Virginia.
And expect the same results as last year, several lawmakers said.
"You'll see the Northern Virginia plan submitted and argued and debated and promoted and probably killed," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria).
The bigger debate will concentrate on how to spend a projected $1 billion surplus expected for the 2007-08 budget year, lawmakers said. Kaine has proposed spending about half of the one-time money on such highway and mass-transit priorities as high-occupancy or toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and widening Route 50 in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. The governor also wants to buy new rail cars for Metro and Virginia Railway Express.
But with the rest of the surplus, Kaine has proposed new spending on health care, stem cell research, education and economic development. That sets him up for a clash with Republican leaders, who say the surplus, and not new tax receipts, should go toward the state's traffic problems. They do not agree with Kaine that a new permanent source of dollars is needed to fund an estimated $17 billion of statewide transportation needs.
"This is nonsense, it is utter nonsense," said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), who favors using the surplus and also issuing bonds to finance road improvements. "They'll pass their tax increase, and then they'll continue their profligate ways, and five years from now we'll still be strapped for cash for transportation. It's a scheme."
In an effort to respond to the growing pique of traffic-weary constituents, many Northern Virginia leaders will back Kaine on slow-growth initiatives this year as well. Kaine has not said exactly what he will propose, but one measure likely to come up again after failing last year would allow local governments to reject residential development applications when the roads are not built to serve those new properties. Another would give counties new power to exact money from developers to help pay for the cost in public services of new growth.
"If I were a betting man, I'd say we're going to get some things out this year," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). "Impact fees are much more acceptable this year. The hold that developers have on Republicans is not as strong as it used to be. There will be some ability to get new money from developers at the local level."
Immigration issues also top several local governments' priority lists for the year. Both Manassas and Fairfax are seeking authority to more strongly enforce anti-crowding regulations. Both say the issue is one of health and welfare, although civil rights groups and even the U.S. Justice Department have looked into instances in which crowding ordinances have been enforced for possible evidence of illegal targeting of Hispanics.
Several lawmakers also will promote legislation to help local law enforcement agencies train to be able to enforce federal immigration laws.
Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) will carry legislation allowing local governments to enforce federal law prohibiting employers from hiring undocumented immigrants. Rust lives in and represents Herndon, the town in Fairfax County where a day labor center provoked such division over the immigration issue that three local officials who supported the center were unseated in spring elections.
"It is against the law to hire an employee without the proper legal papers," Rust said. "Unfortunately, the federal government does not enforce this law. The Town of Herndon has asked for legislation which will allow them to enforce federal law."
Local lawmakers also may weigh in on a proposed 40-mile power line that Dominion Virginia Power hopes to erect through Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties. Rural property owners are fighting the proposal. Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun) plans to submit legislation changing the way the State Corporation Commission decides proposals such as the one being promoted by Dominion.