The rivals for Virginia's lieutenant governorship offered competing priorities for transportation improvements, education and economic development yesterday to business leaders in southern Fairfax County.
Republican state Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover), and former U.S. representative Leslie L. Byrne, a Fairfax Democrat, steered clear of the personal attacks that defined their Sept. 21 debate in Richmond, when they tangled over Bolling's business credentials and Byrne's reputation as a standard-bearer for her party's liberal wing.
Yesterday, the candidates appeared separately as they addressed a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce and drew the outlines of a business climate each would nurture if elected to the state's No. 2 spot on Nov. 8.
Bolling, 48, a former chairman of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors who was elected to the Senate in 1995, said he would promote a "pro-business environment," keeping down taxes and government regulation. He said Virginia has "underfunded" its universities, and he decried an increase in out-of-state students as admissions officials seek revenue from the higher tuition those students pay. "I believe we can do better than that," he told the crowd of 50 at the Mount Vernon Country Club.
Bolling also pledged to boost merit raises for teachers. And he said he would ease the state's traffic congestion by supporting a constitutional amendment to lock up money in the state fund dedicated to road and transit improvements. Bolling, a leader of the General Assembly's anti-tax contingent, voted last year against the $1.5 billion tax increase pushed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
"Not one red cent of the tax increase went to building a transportation system," he said.
Asked what he would do to curb rising property taxes in Fairfax, Bolling proposed a cap on real estate assessments for low- and middle-income seniors.
He did not indicate how he would fund his initiatives.
Byrne, 58, a former state senator and delegate who served one term in Congress, called for a special legislative session to address the state's road and transit needs. She proposed a new rail authority that would create more freight capacity to ease truck traffic on the state's major interstates.
"If we think we can pave our way out of our transportation problems, I don't think that's the case," she said.
Byrne also said she would work to boost resources for vocational education in high schools.
"It's not anything to sneeze at to be a tradesperson," she said.
Byrne emphasized her support for lowering health care costs, especially for small businesses, and proposed that the state encourage companies to enter buying pools for prescription drugs to negotiate lower prices.
The candidates, who have strong appeal to core loyalists in their parties, made no mention of the social issues that divide and define them. Byrne's support for abortion rights, gay rights and labor is well known, whereas Bolling's backers see him as a true conservative who opposes abortion.
At last month's debate sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Byrne raised questions about her opponent's former job at a now-defunct insurance company that collapsed because of financial problems. Bolling has not been named in an investigation by state and federal officials.
Bolling accused his opponent of being an enemy of the business community by supporting a repeal of Virginia's right-to-work law, which prohibits businesses from requiring union membership as a condition of hiring.
Yesterday, the candidates agreed on one thing: their opposition to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the government's power of eminent domain to acquire private land for development.
Byrne called the June decision in a Connecticut case "boneheaded"; Bolling said it "may well have been the worst decision ever handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court." Both vowed to support state legislation to prevent the use of eminent domain purely for economic development or creating tax revenue.