Senate Bill had too Many Uncertainties

Senate Bill had too Many Uncertainties

After the budget meetings in Richmond earlier this month, there still are no bulldozers clearing ground off Silverbrooke Road for the south-county high school, the traffic gridlocks are still plaguing the area, and there will be no bond referendum on the ballot in November.

Fingers are pointing every which way, depending on who's doing the pointing. Del. Tom Bolvin (R-43rd) was discouraged, but still optimistic. Although Bolvin supported funds for education and transportation, the bill that was proposed, SB 170, had four drawbacks, he said.

Areas of disagreement included the idea that a regional sales-tax increase should stay in Northern Virginia, education and transportation should not be tied into one referendum, the money for education should be restricted to just capital expenditures, and specific localities should have a say-so instead of just labeling it “regional.”

"I knew there was going to be no resolution. If we were going to raise our own taxes, we should at least keep the money here." he said.

Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd) had some of the same concerns but pretty much had his mind made up when he found out 20 percent of the money was going elsewhere.

"My thing was that it taxed us and took 20 percent of the money and sent it to other areas," he said. Those "other areas" included Danville, Wise County and Virginia Beach, according to Albo.

He referred to it as "just another money grab."

A referendum without those stipulations would be voted down, and getting another referendum put on the ballot after one was already defeated would be difficult, Bolvin thinks.

"You're only going to get one opportunity on a referendum. On education, it didn't distinguish between operating and capital construction. It did not address school construction the way it should have. To me, no referendum on education was better than a bad referendum on education. "Assessments went up. People aren't happy, and they're not in the tax-raising mood," he said.

Albo also didn't like giving the money to the school system without restrictions.

"It didn't say it was to be used for school construction," he said.

As far as the school construction is concerned, Bolvin does see other options. A public-private sponsorship is still in the picture for the south county.

"We passed a bill that would open that possibility," he said.

Albo was one of the originators of the public-private partnership. On the local level, Albo said that Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Chairman Kate Hanley (D) are pursuing alternate ways for school construction such as that.

"I know they [public-private] could build that school by 2005 for less money," Albo said.

Hyland was part of talks concerning this, as well.

"I think staff on both sides concluded that this is something we should look at. The Board of Supervisors has instructed the staff to go out with an RFP (request for proposals) with reference to a county high school. I'm very supportive of the concept," he said.

Restructuring the tax codes and putting forth another referendum next year are still options.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) also supports the public-private partnership and opposes the amount of taxes that is not returned to Northern Virginia. She was not happy with the adjournment in the House, though, and has other concerns such as the number of students in Springfield that ride buses.

"I think the south-county high school still could be negotiated with the public-private partnership. That's just one of many [problems]. I'm going to come in with another suggestion," she said.

Liz Bradsher is in the Hayfield Pyramid Group pursuing the school. It has been in contact with some developers that are interested in the project.

The Virginia Standards of Quality requirements were still met, though. This is an education baseline that all schools must meet. An increase of $400 million went to this, according to Bolvin.

"We are doing our responsible share for funding public education," he said.

It wasn't all on the negative side, though. Another bill, the Hampton Roads bill, has room to include Northern Virginia to fund transportation needs. Gov. Warner is considering including Northern Virginia as well, according to Bolvin.

"He (Warner) could go in there and amend it to include Northern Virginia," Bolvin said.

College construction did benefit from the session. A nearly $1 billion bond referendum for construction on college campuses will be on the ballot in November if Warner approves the bill. Bolvin looked at that as a partial gain in the past session.

"We came away with half of the prize. We knew we weren't coming away with nothing," he said.

Three years ago, the Senate adjourned without notifying the other House, so it wasn't the end of the world according to Bolvin. The discouragement was apparent, though.

"We hate to keep putting things off until next year, but I hope eventually we can come up with a solution that keeps the money in Northern Virginia for school construction. It will directly fund a need," he said.

Albo and Bolvin were among the 57 delegates that voted to adjourn on March 9. Among those in the area were Richard Black (R-32nd), Joe May (R-33rd), Jay O'Brien (R-40th) and Gary Reese (R-67th). There were 37 delegates who voted not to adjourn. There is a veto session on April 17 in Richmond.

"A large majority of the delegates voted to adjourn," he said, aware of the financial advantage Northern Virginia has over a majority of the state.

"We're always going to be a donor, but there has got to be somewhere we draw the line," Albo said.