Freshman Del. Frank Medico (R-Fairfax) was the only Northern Virginian to raise his voice in opposition today when the Virginia House of Delegates considered its austere $13.2 billion biennial budget bill.
Medico went on and on about runaway government spending, while his other Northern Virginia colleagues rolled their eyes in dismay. "I wish he'd shut up," one said.
The reason: Northern Virginia's 21-member House delegation had decided to change its strategy today and avoid stormy floor speeches that could irritate their colleagues. Instead of continuing to complain that their constituents are being shortchanged in state funds for Metro, roads and schools--as they've done for years--the delegation's plan was to later throw its support behind a four-cent gasoline tax that would commit more than $10 million a year to Metro.
"There's a tendency right now to play it cool, so to speak, to see what happens on this gas tax thing," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax).
Whether or not the strategy will work is unclear, as Northern Virginians attempt to assemble a coalition of urban delegates behind the $114 million statewide highway and transportation proposal. But for today, it meant that no Northern Virginians dissented when the House voted, 96-0, to approve a budget that sharply limited school funding for Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church, and axed a proposal by Gov. Charles S. Robb to dedicate an additional $7.9 million for Metro construction.
"I think I'm going to wait and see what happens," said Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington), one of four Northern Virginian delegates who had threatened earlier to vote against the budget proposal. "I've had some peace offerings, and I'm always open to peace offerings."
Just a few days ago, Marshall had griped that Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church were getting short shrift under state school aid formulas because of the relative wealth of their residents.
Under the budget approved by the House today, Arlington's state school funding will remain virtually unchanged over the next two years while other school districts will see increases of up to 20 percent. Arlington legislators had hoped to win additional education funds to meet the needs of its non-English-speaking students, who make up 13 percent of the county's school population.
Nonetheless, today's tight budget package holds a full complement of plums for Northern Virginia--most of them aimed at Fairfax County, the home of three of the four Northern Virginia members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Among them:
$372 million for state police assigned to the Northern Virginia district, designed to grant them a 20 percent cost-of-living salary differential.
$6.2 million for George Mason University to begin construction of a cultural center on its main campus near Fairfax City.
$254,000 for the Fairfax County School system to reimburse the county for the cost of educating children who live at the Northern Virginia Training Center on Braddock Road.
$1 million for the operation of the soon-to-be-completed Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center.
$175,000 a year for the promotion of Dulles International Airport.
Del. Richard M. Bagley (D-Hampton) chairman of the Appropriations Committee, today said he sympathized with Northern Virginia's complaints, but that the combination of federal budget cuts and declining state revenues had pinched all regions of the state. New taxes, he said, seem to be the only solution to the area's Metro and educational needs.
The Senate already has approved several tax measures, which would raise more than $350 million through levies on corporate income and wholesale oil transfers, and today it approved a $25 million tax on liquor.
Under the bill, approved 30-to-8, Virginia's state-run liquor stores would raise the tax on liquor from 15 to 20 percent. Sponsors of the bill estimated that it would increase the cost of a fifth (750 milliliters) of Jack Daniels from $7.35 to $7.75. Sen. Adelard L. Brault was the only Northern Virginian to vote against the measure, arguing that a tax increase would only push more area residents to cross into Washington and Maryland to buy liquor.
None of the tax measures has been approved by the House.