As the upcoming session of Virginia's General Assembly gets into gear, Del. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-37th) said his priority is to bring money back to Fairfax County.
Petersen's priorities are "anything having to do with the collection and allocation of tax revenue," Petersen said, citing education and transportation as two issues where such a debate could take place.
For 2003, Petersen will propose around a dozen bills aimed at keeping money in Fairfax.
These bills support "promoting efficiency in government, expanding access in government, focusing on the equitable allocation of state resources," Petersen said.
Petersen highlighted several bills that he will attempt to push through the General Assembly. One bill that Petersen will submit, at the request of the lieutenant governor, would televise General Assembly sessions on Virginia public television. Another bill would update Virginia's criminal code by taking some minor felonies and reclassifying them as misdemeanors. For example, under property crimes, the theft of items under $400 in value is classified as a felony, which means that the state bears responsibility to incarcerate the criminal. Petersen's bill would change this classification to a misdemeanor, which could save the state up to $40,000 a year for each prisoner incarcerated.
A third bill would give Fairfax County the legal authority to increase the cigarette tax from five cents to as much as 50 cents per pack, with the revenue generated going toward school capital needs. A sister bill would grant this authority to all counties, not just Fairfax County.
Currently, the City of Fairfax already has this authority to raise the cigarette tax.
Other legislation includes a bill to provide Department of Motor Vehicles function to local officials, thereby giving officials the ability to grant driver’s licenses, and two budget amendments that would change the formula for school funding and aim to bring more money back to Fairfax County schools.
As for the budget shortfall, Petersen supports Gov. Mark Warner's (D) plans to alleviate the crisis, including avoiding a statewide tax increase. He also mentioned two other possibilities that could alleviate the shortfall, in his opinion.
"I'd like to see us sell more surplus properties we don't need," Petersen said. "There are certain boards and commission that maybe we don't need."
If the General Assembly can relieve the shortfall, mental health, community services, and education are the areas Petersen sees needing the money first.
"[Mental health] and higher education are the two areas in the budget that we need to bring back to the baseline," Petersen said.
When asked if he would do anything differently this session, the sophomore delegate said he intends to speak out more and jump into the fray.
"The first year, you're just trying to learn," Petersen said of 2002.