Transportation Leads List Of Businesses' Priorities

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Securing funds for transportation improvements and the education system tops the legislative priorities list that business leaders from the Prince William County area presented to members of the General Assembly on Tuesday.

During an annual breakfast at Montclair Country Club, about 100 members of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce listened to and shared concerns with six local legislators.

The event, which has taken place for more than a decade, was meant to guide the area's representatives as they head to Richmond and tackle the roughly $3 billion deficit the state faces.

"We thank you for your legislative priorities," Del. Paul F. Nichols (D-Prince William) told those in attendance. "You are the lifeblood and heartbeat of the community, so I encourage you to continue to keep us advised as to what you want in Richmond. Your ideas and thoughts are a great help to us."

Transportation improvements locally and in the Northern Virginia region top the two chambers' legislative agenda. In terms of regional projects, the chambers support widening Route 28 between Manassas and Route 29 in Fauquier County. Another local priority is to construct a tri-county parkway, which would connect Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

"One of the biggest projects I want to see done is the tri-county parkway," said Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas). "This road would be the most effective and important transportation project for Prince William County, not only for commuters but for commerce as well."

On the state level, the chambers support a change in the transportation funding formula to give Northern Virginia a larger share of the money. The chambers also support mass transit projects including the implementation of high-occupancy toll lanes and extending the Virginia Railway Express to Gainesville, Haymarket and Fauquier.

"We need mass-transit improvements and some real solutions on the drawing board, so in five to 10 years they will be complete," Nichols said, adding that he supports retooling the funding formula. "They are talking about the Purple Line in Maryland; well, I want to see us get a color, too. We need more transportation options to Woodbridge" and along Interstate 66, he said.

On the education front, the chambers said the state should fully fund mandates placed on kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools.

The chambers are asking legislators to secure about $33 million in funding for Northern Virginia Community College to build a Workforce Development Center at the Woodbridge Campus and to equip a previously approved academic building at the Manassas Campus. The other big push is to get $43 million for the construction of Bull Run Hall II at George Mason University's Prince William Campus.

"We are hoping to get the money to expand our academic space," said Molly Grove, director of campus relations at the Prince William site. She added that GMU officials hope to house the planned governor's school in the new facility.

All the legislators said they support bills to keep the education system top-notch in the state.

Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William) said he wants to make sure elementary and secondary schools receive 65 cents of every dollar the state has, and Sen. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax) said he will work to address school construction, which is frozen across much of the state.

Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) said he supports increasing research and development options at local universities and colleges because that will attract companies and make the area more marketable when the economy rebounds.

The discussion also included other issues.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), for instance, has a bill to mandate that insurers provide autism coverage, and Frederick is pushing for a bill that would create a budget office for the legislature and for another measure that would eliminate the business, professional and occupational licenses tax on businesses.

Nichols said he is considering offering a bill that would help renters whose landlords don't pay the mortgage, and Barker said he wants to scale back the proposed 70 percent funding cut to poison control centers.

Several legislators said they also want to review health-care policies, and all reiterated that the tough budget year demands that they work across party lines to save a state that, like many others, is strapped for cash.

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