Whipple, Scott Assail ‘Fool’s Gold’ at Town Hall Meeting

With references to “fool’s gold” and “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” bags packed and their cars idling outside, metaphorically speaking, Falls Church’s two representatives to the Virginia State Legislature met with constituents at the F.C. Community Center last Saturday to offer final assessments and take final questions before heading to Richmond for a 46-day legislative session.

Del. Jim Scott, who’d already pronounced in News-Press headlines this month that the coming session’s budget battles will be the most difficult in his 20 years of governing, told three dozen on the chilly but clear afternoon that revenue projections for the coming fiscal year are already falling short.

Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple echoed the news, noting that when state revenues came in higher than originally projected in November, Gov. Bob McDonnell revised the projections for the coming year higher. However, December numbers fell below the governor’s new projections, and the fight over who gets squeezed in the coming budget battles will be even more pronounced.

Attending the town hall meeting were Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh, Vice Mayor David Snyder, City Manager Wyatt Shields and Revenue Commissioner Tom Clinton.

Whipple noted that last year’s decision to delay a $600 million payment to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) comes forward as a deficit as the current budget process begins.

This year, while unemployment remains high and more families are qualified for state Medicaid assistance, federal stimulus money is dried up and there’s still a ton of need, Whipple said.

“We need to restore the VRS, meet greater needs and do no further damage to local government and education,” she intoned.

She said she will not support the governor’s plan to fund transportation improvements with debt unless she is clear on how that debt will be paid, Whipple said. The governor’s proposal for using local sales tax funds for transportation will “restrict local flexibility” and drain resources for schools, health care and public safety.

Scott concurred that funding thew VRS “has to be the key priority” in the coming session, and now “we are a long way from figuring out how it will play out.”

He said his own priorities include a non-discrimination bill he’s folding into similar legislation by Del. Adam Ebbin, and he’s also expressed interest in the idea of some to demand an audit of state expenditures being used by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to challenge a University of Virginia climate expert.

He said that the governor’s plan to privatize the sale of alcohol in Virginia is not likely to go anywhere this year.

Noting that teachers in Fairfax County have not received a raise for three years, Scott said that the governor’s plan to fund transportation at the expense of education is “fool’s gold.” He said he favors raising the gas tax, and making it a percentage of the total rather than a fixed amount. That way, he said, as gas prices rise, so will revenues.

Scott also commented on the coming session’s redistricting challenges, noting that “I may not be representing Falls Church when it’s done.” For the first time, one party controls the Senate and the other the House during a redistricting year, he said.

Whipple added that “under the best of circumstances” the usual June primaries for elections this year will be pushed back to late August or even mid-September.

Census numbers won’t be available until the end of February, she noted, and it will take until April for the legislature to adopt a plan for the governor to approve. Then, there must be a 60-day review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Redistricting of U.S. congressional districts will take place even later, she said.