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Votes

Representatives Differ on Assembly Outcome

Yet they agreed that issues such as budget cuts and transportation funding are far from over.

Whether Republican or Democrat, several area representatives of the General Assembly felt this year's session invoked a partisanship not seen in previous years. That partisanship, in addition to budget cuts and a November election, impacted this session's productivity and effectiveness.

"I think we broke down in the last couple of weeks with a lot more partisanship," said Del. J. Chapman Petersen (D-37th).

Yet despite the general agreement that partisanship prevailed over much of the debates, area representatives differed on what was successful about this session. Democrats Petersen and Sen. Leslie Byrne (D-34th) disliked the final budget outcome, while Republican delegate Jeannemarie Devolites (R-35th) thought the budget cutting, although far from perfect, yielded good results. In the end, neither party felt that the Assembly achieved all that it should've accomplished.

"What I saw mainly was an assembly of avoidance," said Byrne. "I think we just avoided our responsibilities. I don't think individuals should do that, and I don't believe government should do that. Both Democrats and Republicans alike have stated that they don't want to upset their election apple cart."

Devolites disagreed, "We really did a good job of prioritizing money for the needs of Virginians."

Indeed, for each of the three area representatives, budget cuts amplified the partisanship between the parties. Petersen believed that the revenue estimates of a five-percent growth were "overly optimistic." He also thought that raising state fees and funding pet projects like a horse center and Lexington didn't solve the problem of balancing the budget.

"I think it's disingenuous to cut people's tax and at the same time, raise fees," Petersen said.

Byrne also disagreed on Republican revenue estimates, calling them a budget "sleight-of-hand."

"A budget is more than just spending, it's identifying where your money comes in," Byrne said.

Republican delegate Devolites thought differently, believing the Assembly was well on its way because of efforts to prioritize. She agreed with Petersen that the state saved money by eliminating several boards and commissions.

"That's when you start doing the things you should've been doing all along," Devolites said of prioritizing.

Yet Devolites said work still needs to be finished on the budget, as she thought that some of the measures were one-time fixes through the hiking of fees or through cuts that Democratic governor Mark Warner endorsed.

"Unless the economy turns around, we're probably looking at billions of cuts next year," Devolites said. "We have really cut so much from the general fund."

Another disappointment shared among area representatives was the inability to come up with adequate funding for transportation projects in northern Virginia. Devolites had hoped that the constitutional amendment to create a transportation trust fund would have past the Senate as it did the House. The failure to pass such an amendment resulted from other localities not wanting to give Fairfax the funding it needs for education and transportation, Devolites said.

"The rest of the state doesn't understand that we need the dollars in Fairfax County," Devolites said.

Byrne had wanted her legislation to give localities a way to manage growth to pass.

"It's moving away from our responsibility. There was little effort to deal with the funds necessary," Byrne said of transportation. "We will constantly be playing catch-up because the needs so far outstrip the ability to pay."

As for accomplishments, the representatives felt there were few, if far in-between. Byrne approved the tightening up of the board of medicine, which requires timely reporting of hospital doctors and keeps track of repeat practicing offenders. Devolites approved of the passage of legislation that she had co-sponsored, which dealt with anti-spamming and Internet privacy and serves as a model for other states as well as the federal government. Petersen, meanwhile, approved of the elimination of unnecessary boards and commissions, as well as the passage of legislation dealing with background checks for applicants for local government positions.

When asked if they will seek re-election, the representatives interviewed differed in their responses. Petersen will seek another term, while Devolites is expected to run for a Senate seat. Byrne said she is still considering whether to run in November.

If they do run, the unresolved issues of this year may come back to haunt them later.

"I think politics is about making tough choices, and I think this assembly tried to avoid a lot of them," Petersen said.