Roads, Mental Health Are Focus for Watts

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Democrat Vivian E. Watts, the District 39 assembly incumbent, devoted much of her most recent term to crime prevention, transportation and mental-health issues. Looking ahead, Watts will have to make some tough decisions as the state grapples with an anticipated $600 million budget shortfall and competing demands from voters and legislators.

Looking back at her most recent term, Watts points to two measures that she shepherded into law: an anti-gang proposal that made brandishing a machete a crime and a law that makes it a crime for a parent to knowingly rent a room to a registered sex offender if a young child lives in the home.

Watts has held the District 39 seat, which includes most of Annandale and Springfield, for 16 of the past 26 years. She served two terms in the 1980s and then left to become state secretary of transportation under then-Gov. Gerald L. Baliles. She spent several years as executive director of CASA, a program for abused children, and won back her old seat in 1995. Despite a few reelection close calls, she has held the seat since.

This year, her only opponent is Springfield resident Laura Clifton, a member of the Green Party. Clifton did not return e-mails or a note left at her home seeking comment.

If Watts is reelected, she said, two major focuses will be getting Northern Virginia's "fair share" of the state's meager transportation dollars and reforming the state's system for treating the mentally ill in the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech in April.

Northern Virginia, she said, will get just $200 million in transportation annually from the state, half of the $400 million that the region will raise.

"Simply allowing Northern Virginia to raise its own money and keep its own money is an important step, but that doesn't mean you let the state back off from its own responsibilities," she said.

Legislators' adamant refusal to raise state taxes means that Virginia residents simply end up paying more in various fees, she said.

Aside from transportation, Watts's major concern is mental-health treatment in the state. Watts, who serves on the state Board of Veterans Services, points out that the system will come under added strain as more members of the military return from Iraq with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She does not rule out supporting higher taxes, as well as funding cuts in other areas of the budget, to pay for these needs. "I always say, 'all of the above,' " she said. "Absolutely you're looking at budget cuts . . . and then at whether or not additional resources are justified."

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