Fairfax County supervisors assess General Assembly session

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Every time the Virginia General Assembly has met in the past few years, Fairfax County officials have braced themselves for the worst.

They have expected that Richmond will take on more powers while reducing the county's prerogatives to manage local affairs. They have expected that lawmakers from the more rural, conservative and needy parts of the state will gang up on Virginia's most populous, most liberal region, expecting it to pay ever more and receive ever less.

This year was no different, except that county officials said they thought that most of the bills that would have tampered with local authority were killed. And cuts to state aid for the county, although serious, were not as bad as feared.

On Tuesday, members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors formally reviewed the General Assembly's recent session with a 94-page staff report whose overall theme was: It could have been worse.

Fairfax officials had pushed for only a handful of measures, including a law backed by the county police chief to strengthen law enforcement's hand in dealing with crimes against senior citizens. But the measure, sponsored by Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun), died in committee.

In a session marked by election-year maneuvering and tea party-driven debates on the size of government, Fairfax lobbyists were working to kill other measures. But of course, some unwanted bills got through.

County officials lobbied against a measure that would begin the process of amending the state Constitution to prevent the use of eminent domain for economic development. Fairfax officials said they thought the measure went too far.

This week, four Fairfax delegates wrote to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), asking him to veto a bill that would require elementary and middle schools to devote 150 minutes to physical education a week, not including recess. The lawmakers say the bill is an unfunded mandate that will cost at least $18 million and reduce valuable classroom time. Lawmakers approved both proposals.

But most of all, the county worked to make sure that Northern Virginia taxpayers see some of the money that they send to Richmond.

Since fiscal 2009, the commonwealth has reduced funding to local jurisdictions by $1 billion. Virginia revenue coming back to the county has declined by $34.2 million since fiscal 2009, according to Fairfax staff.

This year, the governor's proposed revisions to Virginia's two-year, $78 billion spending plan would have cut $12.8 million to Fairfax. The Republican-led House of Delegates' budget writers would have whacked $16.2 million, and the Democratic-led Senate proposed reducing funding to Fairfax by $8.3 million. The compromise from the Senate and House budget conference was a $9.2 million cut.

"In some ways, we dodged a bullet. But in some ways, it still cost us $9.2 million to go to Richmond this year," Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said at Tuesday's county board meeting.

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