The defining issue in the 43rd District House of Delegates race has been personified by Taxman -- an 8-foot-tall walking billboard that follows incumbent Del. Mark D. Sickles at campaign events, apologizing to onlookers for his rude appearance and blaming his girth on the Democrat's support for the 2004 state budget deal.
The gimmick was conceived by the campaign of Ron M. Grignol Jr., 44, a first-time Republican candidate for public office who promises to push for lower taxes. Meanwhile, Sickles maintains that the budget deal has paid off for people in his eastern Fairfax district, which includes neighborhoods such as Franconia, Rose Hill and the growing Kingstowne area. He also said he is committed to reducing hefty property taxes that have hit his constituents hard.
If elected, Grignol said, he would work to eliminate the car tax, repeal taxes on retirement income and support a constitutional amendment to cap property tax increases at 5 percent a year.
"We're losing a lot of valuable people in this district -- military retirees, people with children. The tax burden . . . is pushing people out," he said.
Sickles, 48, a former chairman of the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2003, counters that the tax increases in the 2004 budget helped strengthen the state's long-term financial outlook and provided much-needed funding for education, state employee salary increases and two new medium-security prisons.
"We were able to do so many good things with the money," he said. "I think people are very satisfied with it."
Sickles said he agrees there is an over-reliance on real estate property taxes. He proposed a bill in his first term to return up to 5 percent of the state income tax to localities for the purpose of reducing property taxes. He also said he would support a constitutional amendment to allow localities to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of people's homes from property taxes.
If he is reelected, Sickles said, securing funding for transportation projects would be his first priority. Financing could come from budget surpluses and possibly -- though sparingly -- from the general fund, he said. He also supports some user fees, such as tolls, and he introduced a constitutional amendment to keep money in the transportation trust fund from being diverted for other uses.
Grignol advocates more partnerships with the private sector to fund transportation projects, including high-occupancy toll lanes, which people who drive alone could pay to use. He also supports tax incentives for telecommuting.
Both candidates said they would seek federal funds for transportation improvements around Fort Belvoir, which is expected to gain more than 18,000 workers under a Defense Department plan.
Grignol entered Virginia politics three years ago, after a battle for custody of his daughters, now 10 and 12 years old. He got involved with -- and eventually became president of -- Fathers for Virginia, an organization that lobbies for stronger shared-custody laws. He was a submarine officer in the Navy for 10 years and now works as a consultant for the Missile Defense Agency.
Sickles works in government and corporate relations for a construction company. He served on the Fairfax County Library Board for 11 years, beginning in 1993. His first bid for the House of Delegates in 2001 against Thomas M. Bolvin was unsuccessful, but he prevailed in a rematch two years later. Achievements he highlights from his first term include securing more state funding for Fairfax libraries and introducing legislation that requires anyone convicted of a nonviolent sexual offense with a child under 6 years old be listed on the sex-offender registry.