Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. doesn't expect Northern Virginia to become a separate state anytime soon. "I'm an absolute believer that it's never going to happen in my lifetime," he said.
However, at Centre View's request, he recently took time to consider the many possible ramifications of such an event on the new state's legal system.
"First, you would have to come up with a form of government, adopt a state constitution and determine what your legislative branches would look like," said Horan. "Theoretically, the people of the new state — under their state constitution — [would establish their government]."
Citizens could create the state to work whatever way they'd like. For example, they could determine the specific term length and particular powers of the governor and whether they fancied a one- or two-house legislature. They'd also decide how much power it would have.
While figuring that the legislature would probably be bound by the "one man, one vote" principle, as in the other states, Horan said the citizens would have to determine which jurisdictions would get which delegates or senators.
"IF IT'S A TWO-HOUSE LEGISLATURE, how many senators do you want to give each [area]?" he asked. "Do you want two per jurisdiction, or something based on population?
That issue would also give rise to other, even thornier, problems to solve. Would Fairfax County, for example — with its nearly 1 million residents — receive more representation in the General Assembly than other jurisdictions? And where would that leave smaller jurisdictions, such as Alexandria, with more than 100,000 people, or Arlington, with some 170,000 residents?
Said Horan: "It is no small undertaking."
Another major decision would have to be made about how the court system would function and whether citizens wanted a supreme court, mid-level appellate court and city or county courts. They could set up the judiciary identical to how it is now. But, if they chose otherwise, said Horan, "There'd be an incredible number of options available."
HE ALSO WONDERED WHAT KIND of tax system there'd be, since it would be funded by strictly local dollars. "One of the arguments [for a separate state] is that we get back far less state dollars than we give, so we'd get more state money back," he said. "But then, would Arlington and Prince William get back as much as Fairfax County? It would be a remarkably complicated process."
Horan also questioned where there would still be real-estate taxes and what taxes would fund the school system. "All you'd be doing would be changing the battlegrounds — the turf wars," he said. Instead of Northern Virginia vs. the state, it would be jurisdiction against jurisdiction.
"For example," he said, "you have varying real-estate taxes Would you want everyone taxed at the same rate?" And what about the Town of Clifton that doesn't even have a real-estate tax? Would one suddenly be imposed on it?
"The money [to fund the new state] would come from the pockets of the folks who live here," said Horan. "You need taxpayer dollars to fund the governor and lieutenant governor's offices and the state police." -----
RETURNING TO LEGAL ISSUES, Horan said an entire, new state code — for both civil and criminal matters — would have to be crafted. "You'd have to pass all new laws, unless you decide to re-adopt all the laws of Virginia," he explained. "And would you include all the tax laws we complain about?"
Another question is whether a new form of state police would have to be established to replace the state troopers. "And what about the state forensic lab and medical examiner's office?" asked Horan. "You'd have to create all new entities for the new state."
Would cities and counties be left the way they are now? Whatever changes are made, he said, would have to be done by agreement. Said Horan: "In setting up the new government, all the town charters — such as Clifton, Vienna and Herndon — would be abolished."
Northern Virginia would also have to have its own prison, but where would it go. "'Not in my backyard' would be the answer," said Horan. "Certainly not in downtown Clifton, that's for sure."
Overall, he said Northern Virginia would have to establish a form of government compatible with the way the other states are set up. Then it would have to petition the U.S. to become a state.
"It would take years and years to work out the particulars before you seceded," said Horan. "That's why I say it ain't gonna happen in my lifetime."