Members of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce heard from both sides of the aisle this week. Democrat Delegate Kristen J. Amundson (D-44) and Republican Delegate Tom Bolvin (R-43) joined members for lunch at Paradiso Restaurant to share their thoughts on this year's general assembly.
As members enjoyed a buffet lunch, Amundson took the podium.
"It's great to be here," she said. "I'm glad to be back home. It was a mad dash."
And a mad dash it was — 46 days to digest and vote on hundreds of bills. There were a few victories, but just as many disappointments.
Amundson said that contrary to what people think about delegates and senators being in the limelight, she said that they operate in relative obscurity.
She also said that Virginia has a history of operating in an environment of fiscal security, and are only one of the few states to maintain a AAA bond rating. She added that "we've developed one of the best systems of higher education and created an environment for Fairfax County to flourish."
Amundson said, "I'm sad to say that tradition of fiscal security did not continue. We spent a good deal of time on socially divisive issues."
Amundson said they spent a lot of time on issues such as regulation of hair braiding and didn't deal successfully with some of the big issues.
"We're creating a bow wave, pushing off the issues," said Amundson.
One of the bills that wasn't passed was one that would have equalized taxing authority between counties and cities. "Fairfax County does not have the tools to deal with its exploding population, as do the surrounding cities," she said.
Amundson also felt that the assembly didn't deal with issues of higher education. "Fairfax County is not fairly treated concerning revenue for higher education," she said. "These are opportunities that were missed."
ON A POSITIVE NOTE, Amundson said that legislators had a refreshing change in leadership. William J. Howell (R-28) is now the Speaker of the House, and Amundson likened the difference between him and the former speaker to the difference between a puppeteer and an orchestra conductor.
"He has a sense of humor and even though he's a strong Republican, he behaved in a fair and even-handed way," she said.
Two pieces of legislation didn't make headlines, but Amundson thinks both will make a huge difference. A major government reform package will require that if revenue forecasts fall, the governor will be required to call the committees back to revise projections. A major technology reform bill will combine 45 different contracts for Dell into one major one, allowing for economies of scale.
Amundson said that she did not vote for the budget, saying she felt it relied on overly optimistic revenues and made promises that can't be kept. She was also concerned about priorities. Almost a million dollars was approved for a horse farm, while only $1.7 million was approved for Fairfax County teachers' raises.
THERE WERE TWO pieces of education legislation that were positive. Funding was granted for remediation of students who failed SOL tests and starting next year, teachers will be allowed to purchase computers at the state contract rates.
Amundson closed with an example of how follow-up to citizen's concerns does really happen. During one of her Saturday morning office hours at Sherwood Library, a constituent told Amundson how she had been sickened because a contractor used TCE (Trichloroethylene) adhesive in her home. Legislation has now been passed to make the use of TCE illegal, and in two years the selling of the product will be illegal as well.
Bolvin spoke to chamber members and thanked those who went to Richmond during the General Assembly.
"Involvement is important; we listen to our constituents," he said.
He added that he, even though there were some things he didn't like in it, voted for the budget, saying that they achieved the goals of not reducing education dollars; reopened the DMV offices; and funded the sexually violent predator act.
This latter act provides for the institutionalization of sexually violent predators if they are deemed dangerous upon their release from jail.
Bolvin felt the assembly had made a lot of great policy decisions and did a lot of good things. He mentioned that he was chair of an education and transportation subcommittee and that he and Amundson are classmates from the Delegate class of '99. With four retirements on the horizon, Bolvin expects that both he and Amundson will move up in rank.