It was more grim news coming from Richmond by way of three Northern Virginia Democratic legislators today, as State Del. Kaye Kory and State Sens. Richard Saslaw and Dave Marsden converged on a town hall meeting at the Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in wider Falls Church this morning for a lively two-hour discussion with constituents. The event also provided appearances by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and Fairfax County School Board member Sandy Evans.
Kory and Marsden noted how under the newly-Republican-controlled government in Richmond (the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature all in GOP hands), a long tradition of civility has been supplanted with “partisan arguing and bullying,” including arbitrary rules changes, some of which Democratic legislators were unaware of until arriving for the 2012 legislative session last month.
Key developments include the plethora of GOP-backed bills expected to become law on restricting the reproductive rights of women, putting more guns on the streets, and suppressing voting rights. “There’s a lot of disenfranchising going on,” Kory remarked. Also, public education is threatened by the governor’s plan to take money from the general fund to fund transportation, and no legislation to implement the national Affordable Health Care Act stands to pass.
On the bills to suppress voting rights by requiring added forms of identification by voters, Saslaw noted the racially-tinged motives behind the push, saying that no such legislation has been proposed by Republicans outside the south. “It is so obvious that even Ray Charles could see through this,” he said.
Kory added that demanding more IDs from voters discriminates against especially older African-American voters because prior to the Civil Rights Act, many of them were deprived access to adequate forms of identification, and therefore still cannot provide birth records needed for a driver’s license or other form of identification.
Rep. Connolly chimed in that bills restricting social and voting rights in Richmond threaten to “tarnish the image of Virginia” in ways that will harm the state’s economic growth, especially in Northern Virginia. “Our growth over the last 30 years,” he said, “Has been based on the idea of preaching no barriers, no barriers to success and diversity. A word of caution, the Republican agenda in Richmond will hurt Virginia,” he said.
He noted that while there have been 24 consecutive months of private sector job growth nationally, there has been a net loss of 600,000 jobs in the public sector, including 16,000 in Virginia, The number of jobs at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has dropped from 10,800 to 6,000, and funding for secondary roads in Fairfax County that was $28 million in 2002 fell to $2,000 last year, and will be zero this year. “This starving of the public sector is the result of a philosophy that says this is a good thing,” Connolly said.
Kory said that the governor’s transportation plan is based on raising money by selling naming rights to highways and rest stops, tolls on Interstate 95 and money drawn out of the general fund. But 35 percent of the general fund goes to K-12 education, 16 percent to higher education and the rest to health, human services and public safety. “There are a lot of very disturbing things going on with the budget,” she said, including “a lot of social services cuts that are hidden in it.” She cited the complete elimination of seven teen pregnancy counselings centers located around the state.
Saslaw noted that in many parts of Virginia, sheriff departments are the primary form of policing, but that many sheriff deputies are paid so little they’re forced to be on public assistance.
Saslaw said that, in terms of the budget, the Republican lieutenant governor does not have a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which is constituted of a 20-20 tie between Democrats and Republicans. For that reason he said, “The governor is doing to have to come to us (the Democrats) to get his budget passed. “Over the last decade, the general fund has been nickeled and dimed away, and we won’t allow it any more. If there is money taken from it this year for transportation, it will not pass,” he vowed.
Despite the grim prospects, “We (Democrats) will not role over and play dead,” Marsden said. “You elected us and we will do everything we can.”