Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

saslaw-fcnpOn Tuesday we had an election that most of us would agree we could not wait to see come and go. (That may be known as election ad fatigue). Virginians will be privileged to yet another election in 12 months that will determine the composition of the entire state legislature. As a result, I suspect come January when the General Assembly meets, we will be “treated” to the beginning of that ”path to victory” with all kinds of bills and rhetoric intended to shape the campaigns of 2015.

Americans had a chance to vote for a change in Washington. No matter whether you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican or Independent, you would have to admit what has been happening in the nation’s capital is not exactly what you would call good governance. Finding common ground on both sides of the aisle made for good public policy. That meant finding middle ground on issues and not allowing fringe groups to hold political parties hostage. In recent years, it appears the mission has been to thwart any efforts that may positively contribute to America’s success. This new Congress has its work cut out for it. It is time to move this country forward, tackling the social issues plaguing our society as well as the myriad of issues limiting our leadership in the global economy. Regrettably, this crippling model has crept into many state legislatures, including the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile in Richmond we are facing a growing budget deficit in both years of the biennial budget. Virginia is the largest recipient of federal money fueling its economy. As a result of sequestration (across the board cuts in federal expenditures) Virginia continues to experience the negative effects of a stalled economy. It is painful to know that our colleges and universities have already taken a $40 million hit. To cover the shortfall from the state, these institutions have limited options. These include: offering few class offerings, thereby extending the time it takes to acquire the necessary credits for graduation; raise the tuition and correspondingly increase student debt; or accept more out of state students to make up the difference in necessary revenue. Most people reading this column do understand what I am saying here. Regrettably, some of the elected members of the General Assembly don’t have a clue.

Higher education is not the only victim in the “starve government” approach to their view of fiscal responsibility. If you can believe it, I am still hearing from people with potholes and neighborhood streets in desperate need of repair. Based on a five – year review of average expenditures, VDOT planned and budgeted $157 Million for the 2013-2014 snow removal budget. When Old Man Winter finally gave up its grip on the region, the expenses where in the neighborhood of $350 million. For this winter with the state budget around $145.5 million, our region has a budget of $50.5 Million for snow removal. VDOT’s Commissioner Charlie Kirkpatrick stated “maintaining the roads – no matter what the weather brings – is VDOT’s number one job.” For a little more trivia – VDOT filled over 79,000 potholes by early June. Many of you ask what about resurfacing the neighborhood streets – the budget limits that project to about once every fourteen years. And then, it is the main and secondary roads that have priority. You are able to access the snowplow tracker at http://www.vdotplows.org – you may want to bookmark that now.

And finally on the subject of roads, the I 95 HOT lanes from Stafford to Duke Street are scheduled to open in mid-December. Remember that the HOT lanes are a public private partnership and fees are collected. Transurban has been diligent in the collection of fees for violators of the system. I would remind you that the violation is billed to the license plate and sent to the residence. Discarding an invoice from the company, does not mean it doesn’t count. If you have been incorrectly cited for a violation, on the 495 Express Lanes, you have up to 60 days to remedy the problem without being assessed fees. Separately, if you move, you are obliged to change the address on your driver’s license with the DMV.


Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.