Gov. Mark Warner took his campaign to Realtors Oct. 24 urging them to go out and vote in favor of the sales tax referendum and the state bond referendums for education and parks. Speaking at the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors' (NVAR) annual conference barely two weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Warner stressed that the state's good bond rating and low interests rates made this a good time to sell bonds.
"You've got to get out and help us spread the word," Warner pleaded to the Realtors, noting that he realized he was "preaching to the choir."
The NVAR has been an advocate of the sales tax increase.
"You become critical components of [the referendum's passage]," he said. "You help build stronger communities."
Referendum opponents who think the state could send more transportation dollars to Northern Virginia are misguided, he added.
"If you somehow think there's this pile of dollars in Richmond, well, you probably also believe in the tooth fairy as well," he said.
WARNER ALSO criticized his predecessor, former Gov. James Gilmore, for being responsible for the state's current budget woes.
He "inherited" a $3.8 billion shortfall, he said, which his administration struggled to close.
"That's almost what some of the houses in Great Falls cost," he quipped, drawing laughter from the Realtors.
"We got there because during the late ‘90s we had a business plan for the state that had the same business plan as some of the dot-coms," he added, pointing to a series of tax cuts enacted by the Gilmore administration combined with increased state spending.
"You can only cut revenues and increase spending if you live in a period of incredible prosperity."
"The whole fiscal house of cards collapsed," he said. "And that has created at least a billion-and-a-half-dollar shortfall on top of the $3.8 billion shortfall that we already closed."
That latest shortfall forced Warner to call for layoffs of over 1,800 state employees and to cut agency budgets by up to 15 percent, the maximum allowable cut by a governor without General Assembly approval.
But the budget mess is an opportunity for Virginians to re-examine the role of state government in the lives of Virginians.
"We need to have, I believe, an honest conversation, a debate, a dialogue of what we want in terms of state government in Virginia," he said.
"This whole debate about what kind of Virginia we want to live in and support comes 12 days from now when we're going to be asked three questions" in the form of three state bond referendums, he added.
"We need your ideas, your input and your voice to be heard in these coming weeks and months," he told the Realtors.
REALTORS AT the convention browsed through stands set up by real estate firms, mortgage lenders and property management companies. Pat Jablonski, the chairman of the NVAR, said this was a convention filled with possibilities.
"The first great possibility is we may have caught the sniper," he said in his opening remarks, drawing cheers from the crowd. The convention opened the day authorities in Maryland arrested two people in connection with the case.
Because of safety measures in the schools, the Graham Road Elementary School Chorus, which has opened the convention in the past with a patriotic medley, was unable to attend.
Tina Ciaccio, a Realtor at the convention, did not describe herself as a big backer of Warner but supported the sales tax increase.
"I'm not necessarily a supporter, but I like what he thinks of the tax raise," she said after the speech.
"It makes perfect sense. Since there's no other option, it sounds like a perfect plan.”
"We see the increase in housing. We see the increase in traffic. We drive in it every day during the day, all day," said Realtor Steve Fred, explaining the reasons for his support of the tax referendum.
"We know that those houses are going to provide two, three more cars per house. Public transit hopefully would not put all those cars in the road."