News

Local Lawmakers Warn Constituents Of Grim Outcomes Due in Richmond

2 F.C. Democrats Say Republican Majorities In Senate, House & State House Spell Trouble

Falls Church’s two representatives to the Richmond legislature that convened its annual session this week — State Sen. Dick Saslaw and State Del. Jim Scott, both Democrats — painted a grim picture for constructive gains during the coming session, with both chambers and the state house all controlled by Republicans after November’s election, at a heavily-attended town hall meeting in the Falls Church Community Center last weekend.

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State Del. Jim Scott (left) and Sen. Dick Saslaw addressed constituents at Saturday’s town hall meeting at the Falls Church Community Center. (Photo: News-Press)
2 F.C. Democrats Say Republican Majorities In Senate, House & State House Spell Trouble

Falls Church’s two representatives to the Richmond legislature that convened its annual session this week — State Sen. Dick Saslaw and State Del. Jim Scott, both Democrats — painted a grim picture for constructive gains during the coming session, with both chambers and the state house all controlled by Republicans after November’s election, at a heavily-attended town hall meeting in the Falls Church Community Center last weekend.

For the many Falls Church residents present, including Mayor Nader Baroukh, Vice Mayor David Snyder, School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, City Manager Wyatt Shields and a number of familiar civic activists and officials, it marked the first opportunity for getting to know Sen. Saslaw “up close and personal,” and all were duly impressed at his knowledge of the issues and humor.

Due to statewide redrawing of state and delegate districts achieved following the latest census last spring, Saslaw’s 35th District was reconfigured to include the City of Falls Church. While this change has been established for months, last Saturday marked the first extensive opportunity for the Falls Church public to meet him.

As Saslaw quipped, he’s officially represented Falls Church for only three days so far, since being sworn into his latest term last week. But the 71-year-old lawmaker has been in the state legislature since 1976, and is the Senate minority leader.

For Scott, it was yet another annual town hall meeting with his Falls Church constituents, whom he has represented since 2002. He has been in the state legislature since 1992.

As a result of November’s election, the Republicans control the Senate, even though it is technically a 20-20 tie, because a tie-breaker vote lies in the hands of the Republican lieutenant governor Bill Bolling.

This has already resulted in a major shake-up of the leadership of Senate committee structure. And the gains by the GOP in the House of Delegates give it the widest margin of control yet, 68 to 32. And in the state house, insofar as Gov. Bob McDonnell is eyeing a nod as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Saslaw said, he isn’t going to do anything which could be construed as soft on Democratic-favored issues.

Saslaw said he’s already seen bills introduced, with a strong chance of becoming law, that are unlike anything he’s seen in his 36 previous legislative sessions in Richmond.

He cited one where a four-year-old child could be expelled from pre-K day care if its parents fail to pass a mandated parenting program. In another bill, embryonic stem cell research would become illegal, even involving private companies, with criminal penalties.

“We have three or four Republicans in the senate who are ‘approachable’ by Democrats on some of the more extreme issues,” he said. Otherwise, on issues like gun control, he said, “You can forget about it. If there was a bill that every house in Virginia should be equipped with a surface-to-air missile, it would pass,” he quipped.

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The audience at last Saturday’s town hall meeting in Falls Church. (Photo: News-Press)

He noted that the Republican attorney general has said it’s OK to carry guns into churches, and while some Republicans are pushing to legalize them on campuses, only because of the fact that the National Rifle Association is not pushing that issue, he said, it might fail.

The biggest setback, however, will come if the governor gets his way on taking a percentage of the sales tax revenue to the general fund and dedicating it to transportation, taking money that would otherwise be used for education, health care and other vital services, including public safety.

“We tried every gimmick under the sun, except for what we should have been doing” to meet transportation needs, he said.

He said that Virginia’s gas tax is 17.5 cents, or half the 35 cents in North Carolina and significantly lower than all the surrounding states. But gas at the pump costs even more in Virginia than in some neighboring states because the gas companies charge for their gas to make the rates roughly even across the board.

So, Virginia’s lower gas tax is doing no good to its citizens. It is only allowing the gas companies to make a bigger margin of profit in the state.

Yet, a penny extra on the gas tax would yield $48 million. As for former owner of a large number of gas stations, Saslaw said, “If there’s anything I know something about, it is this.”

Of every dollar taken out of the general fund, 34 cents is from K-12 education, 16 cents from higher education, 30 cents from health and human services and the rest from public safety and other programs, he said.

Scott concurred with Saslaw’s assessement of the overall situation in Richmond this session. “I’ve been in the legislature since 1992, and have never seen this kind of imbalance. We’re facing issues we haven’t had to face before. Our job is to make your lives better,” he said, “But we will be fighting to avoid making them worse.”

Saslaw said that there will be no state funding for the Columbia Pike light rail project, and that legislation proposed by State Sen. Chap Petersen to resolve the dispute over water between Fairfax County and the water systems of three adjacent jurisdictions, including the City of Falls Church’s, will be put over until next year.

He said the state’s contribution to Medicaid is among the lowest in the U.S., and only due to get worse. He said McDonnell will do nothing that could be construed as remotely associated with “Obama Care,” he said.

“I go to bed being thankful for Mississippi and Alabama,” he said, because they’re the only states with poorer records. But without the revenue that Northern Virginia provides to the rest of the state, Virginia would be at the very bottom of a number of lists. Even places like Prince William County, he said, report results for the composite index (determining how much it will receive in state educational aid) of a third world country, he said.

Saslaw urged the audience to become more proactive in registering voters. In his 35th District, he noted, 51 percent is Caucasian, 25 percent Hispanic and 12 percent Asian. But while 84 percent of Caucasians are registered to vote, only four percent of Hispanics and eight percent of Asians are. If those numbers were significantly changed, VIrginia would become “an entirely different state,” he said.

Noting that campaigns now face the added burden of super-PAC money, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are citizens, he joked, “I’ll believe that corporations are citizens when Texas executes one of them.”

Among those present at the town hall, F.C. School Superintendent Jones told the News-Press that she is “keeping her fingers crossed” to see how much Richmond can provide to ameliorate the pressures of the Virginia Retirement System on the local systems, since that is such a big part of what will drive increases in school budgets this year.

She added that she was heartened by Saslaw’s indication that the “Labor Day” or “King’s Dominion law” will be repealed, allowing local jurisdictions to determine if they want to begin classes before Labor Day or not.