Local Commentary

Delegate Scott’s Richmond Report

Marshall 1; McDonnell 0

How ironic. A very conservative Republican delegate without a law degree has a better handle on the Virginia Constitution than the Attorney General of Virginia who has a law degree, has practiced law and was elected to be Virginia’s lawyer. It is his failure as a lawyer that caused the General Assembly to pass very a flawed transportation funding measure that the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously declared null and void.

Last year most of us from Northern Virginia voted for HB 3202, Speaker Howell’s transportation funding bill. In spite of its inadequacy and poor construction, local governments asked us to support it because we were all desperate for funding for mass transit and road improvements.

And Attorney General Bob McDonnell opined that it was constitutional. Without McDonnell’s assurance, I believe its passage was unlikely. As a result of the McDonnell opinion, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) adopted several revenue measures and call them “fees,” not “taxes.”

Shortly after HB 3202 was signed by the Governor, Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William County filed a suit contesting the constitutionality of the NVTA-adopted taxes. Many may recall that Marshall was the chief sponsor and advocate of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. Marshall also has frequently introduced legislation to ban abortion and contraception.

Last Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously disagreed.

It ruled that only the Commonwealth or legally established regional governments or local governments could impose taxes, even if the General Assembly calls them “fees.”

Bob Marshall wins. Bob McDonnell loses. And hundreds of millions of dollars for Metro, Dulles Rail support, local road improvements and bus service are lost unless the General Assembly corrects the mistake the Attorney General advised us to make.

Even worse——

House Republicans are insisting on dramatic changes to public education funding. They have proposed cutting the state’s obligation to finance public education by changing the funding formula called the Standards of Quality to reduce dramatically the Commonwealth’s support of local public schools.

Beginning in the 2010 biennial budget, the Department of Education and the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia School Boards Association have estimated that local school systems with lose as much as $400 million in state support.

 In short, localities will either have to cut teachers and support personnel or raise property taxes to avoid undermining the commitment we have historically made to public education.  

Only the new and very narrow Democratic majority in the Senate and the Governor can stop it during the negotiations on the budget. With no budget conferees in the House from Northern Virginia, it will not be easy, but Northern Virginia has three conferees—Senators Colgan, Howell and Saslaw—in the Senate. Unless there is agreement by Saturday, we may have to have another special session—this time to resolve both transportation and education funding.