Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) may be new to Virginia's General Assembly, but he's developed his legislative agenda and is eagerly charging full steam ahead, proud to be part of the process.
"The Republican senate caucus is producing an agenda that I'm excited about," he said. "I have a steep learning curve, but I'm catching on fast. I don't know what I don't know — but I'm finding out quickly."
Cuccinelli is serving on four committees: Local Government, Courts of Justice, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. And he's promoting his own bills, plus those of some of his colleagues.
For example, he's supporting a bill drafted in response to the rise in pedestrian deaths and injuries in Fairfax County. Now, localities can only instruct drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This bill would give localities the power to make these drivers stop.
"This would probably be done at high-priority intersections," said Cuccinelli. "The Transportation Committee asked that signs be posted warning drivers that they'll have to stop. I fully expect it to pass."
His own bills deal with a variety of topics. One would move the burden of proof from taxpayers to the Department of Taxation in appeals of state tax assessments. "Instead of taxpayers having to prove their state tax assessment is wrong, the Department of Taxation would have to prove it's right," he explained. "It's been introduced to the Senate and referred to a committee, and I'm now gathering co-patrons."
Cuccinelli also has a bill to cap increases on the total real-estate tax paid, on average countywide, at 5 percent. "When your assessments go up, it would automatically reduce, by act of law, the tax rate so you wouldn't pay any more," he said. "The Board of Supervisors would have the right to raise that real-estate tax up to 5 percent or inflation plus population — whichever is higher. And this will all be addressed in the tax-restructuring."
Centreville's senator is also proposing a constitutional amendment for a cap on state spending "so we can only spend the prior year's total plus the percent increases in population and inflation. If the growth in taxes is greater than the growth in population and inflation, the excess would go to either the Rainy Day Fund — for small amounts — or, in the event of larger excesses, these excess taxes would be refunded to taxpayers."
Furthermore, said Cuccinelli, "I pushed hard in the Senate Republican caucus for no new state taxes, period, and I think we'll stick to that."
Carrying some 10 bills this session, Cuccinelli also has an abortion-clinic bill to apply medical safety regulations to facilities that do large numbers of abortions. He's also co-patroning a partial-birth abortion ban.
In the area of transportation, he's trying to downsize the Woodrow Wilson bridge project and change its structure. Otherwise, he said, "It will make the Route 1 interchange costlier than the Mixing Bowl and suck all the money out of every other Northern Virginia transportation project."
The project is currently estimated at $2.56 billion but, contends Cuccinelli, building 10 lanes instead of the 12 lanes planned could cost $1 billion less. He says it could free up more than $500 million in Virginia dollars and possibly as much as $700 million for other much-needed state transportation projects — including those in Northern Virginia. In addition, he said, "The project could be completed more quickly and would be less intrusive environmentally."
"The reason I'm acting now is because the last set of contracts critical to building the bridge haven't been let yet," said Cuccinelli. "But this session is our last shot."
As for his freshman term in the state legislature, he says he's working hard and, so far, is managing to stay ahead of everything. He and Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien (R-39th) sit together on the Senate floor and, said Cuccinelli, "My fellow senators have been helpful and patient, and people on both sides of the aisle are cordial."
Regarding the General Assembly itself, he said, "People can tell you what it is and how it works, but you get a feel for it over time — and I'm getting it pretty fast. It is challenging — and I'm working 17-hour days — but I'm glad I'm doing it."