Janet Howell, State Senate, District 32

Janet Howell, State Senate, District 32

Office Sought: State Senate, 32nd District

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Previous offices: State Board of Social Services (1987 -1991)

Incumbent: Elected in 1991

Occupation: Full-time State Senator

Current employment:  State Senator

Previous employment:  Public school teacher, legislative aide to Del. Ken Plum

Education: Oberlin College, BA in Government, 1962-1966

The University of Pennsylvania, MA in International Relations,


Community ties: I am one of those rare native Northern Virginians!  My family and I have lived in Northern Virginia since 1974. My community service includes:

President, Forest Edge PTA

Vice president or Board member of four other PTAs

Chairman, State Board of Social Services

Chairman, Fairfax Co. Social Services Board

President, Reston Community Association                                      Board member, Reston Interfaith

Chairman, Embry Rucker Homeless Shelter Board

Chairman, Laurel Learning Center Board

Vice Chairman, Citizens Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning

Board Member, Greater Reston Arts Center

Endorsements:           Fairfax Education Association

Virginia Education Association

Renew for Schools

League of Conservation Voters

Clean Water Action

Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce

Northern Virginia Technology Council

Washington Board of Trade

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Equality Virginia

1.  What is your top public-service accomplishment?

For the past 28 years I have dedicated myself full-time to community service, for sixteen years as a community activist and for the past twelve years as state senator. I have been recognized for my ability to find consensus in a group and then implement its recommendations.  In the Senate my commitment to my constituents remains to work full time for them, to work across regional and party lines for them, and to always work for their long-term best interest rather than my own political best interest.

2. Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term. Why shouldn’t voters blame you for current problems in your district?

Over the past three years, we have had to cut $6 billion from $30 billion in General Fund revenues available.  We have prioritized our state services and met our constitutionally required responsibility for a balanced budget.  As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I have had to make very tough choices. My priorities were to protect public education and services for our most needy neighbors and assure public safety programs (especially for our first responders) were adequate.  I succeeded: public education actually received increased funding ($85 million) this year and human services were preserved.  Additional funds also went to first responders.  This was accomplished without increasing state taxes.

The voters in the 32nd Senate District are the most highly educated and most politically sophisticated in the Commonwealth.  They understand what is feasible in economic hard times and are not swayed by those who promise the world but refuse to pay for it.

3. What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them? Describe one challenge (or more) in your district that is different than in other parts of the state.

The top five problems facing my constituents: Relieving traffic congestion, public education funding, creating and keeping high-paying jobs, keeping our institutions of higher education first rate and providing for an additional 60,000 students, and meeting the essentials for our needy neighbors.  My approach is to work across party and regional lines to solve problems.  I have always been recognized for moderate leadership and full-time, hard work. For the 32nd District, relieving traffic congestion and air pollution by bringing rail to Dulles is a top priority.  We are at a critical stage with obtaining federal funding which is needed to bring the dream to reality.

4. . What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?

I have dedicated my adult life to improving conditions in my community and state. I am determined, hard-working, experienced and moderate. Prior to election, I was a PTA president, chairman of the State Board of Social Services, president of the Reston Community Association, and head of numerous other community groups. As a member of the Senate for three terms, I have risen in seniority and serve on the most powerful committees including the Senate Finance Committee where I am one of only three northern Virginians and the only woman ever to serve.

5. How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponent(s)?

We differ on issues.  He is against abortion even in the case of rape or incest; I am pro-choice.  He supports a bill that would give pharmacists the option of dispensing birth control pills prescribed by doctors; I voted against that.  He supports a combination of positions that includes a property tax cap on local government, a pledge not to increase any taxes (including tobacco), a requirement for a super-majority for any tax increases, and a promise not to support any tax referenda; I do not support putting such a stranglehold on state and local services.  He supports the concealed weapons legislation and does not think gun control prevents crime: I oppose the concealed weapons bill and know that guns are the main weapons used in family violence murders. (His positions are taken from a survey he filled out that is at www.virginiavotes.net and a letter he wrote that is also at that site.)

6.  What is one thing you promise not to do if elected?

I promise to act in the long-term best interest of my constituents and the Commonwealth and not in my own short-term, political interest.

7. What do you predict for the one-to-two year future of the budget and what adjustments will you propose to prepare for your prediction? What impact is this likely to have on your constituents?

I predict another $1 billion shortfall in the state budget for next year on top of the $6 billion in cuts we have already made. I will continue to support tax restructuring. My technology reform legislation of last year should begin to save taxpayers significant dollars -- an estimated $100 million annually. I will continue to vote to increase the cigarette tax from the lowest in the nation to the national average. Constituents will definitely feel the results: it is going to be increasingly difficult to protect essential core services such as public education, services for our mentally ill and mentally retarded, and public safety.

8. What specific solutions will you propose for the transportation dilemma? Please address funding, prioritization, air quality, bus service and other non-rail public transportation solutions, expansion of rail service, and any other possible approach.

My top priority is rail to Dulles. It is essential for commuters, air quality, economic prosperity, and quality of life. Beyond that, we must use all options available, including enhanced bus service, spot improvements, traffic signal synchronization, HOT lanes, pedestrian and bike access.  We will need to look at alternative funding methods including the Public/Private Transportation Act and user fees. After Gov. Gilmore raided the Transportation Trust Fund, I supported a constitutional amendment to prohibit transferring the funds.  My website www.janethowell.com lists specific priorities and funding possibilities including use of the insurance tax for bonding purposes.

9. Do local governments have the tools they need to control and guide growth? How will state and local governments cope with the additional demand for services that comes with additional residential construction? What are the important features of "smart growth," and can more emphasis on smart growth help offset some of the effects of suburban development?

As a Reston resident who was actively involved in the planning of the community, I know that much is possible under current law (we even got more than $90 million in transportation proffers from developers from the Town Center rezoning).  We need more "smart growth" and specifically Transit Oriented Development in the Dulles Corridor. Statewide, much more emphasis should be placed on bringing transportation planning and land use planning into alignment.  We also need to assure that our own children and public employees can find homes they can afford in our community.

10. What are your top environmental priorities? Please address air quality, water quality, open space, etc.

At the state level, Virginia has a deplorable record on environmental issues.  We rank at or near the bottom among states on almost all indicators.  I am proud to have the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters (which is the umbrella group for smart growth organizations, the Sierra Club, Audobon Society, etc.) as well as Clean Water Action.  In the four years the League has rated senators' voting records, I have the top ranking twice and the second highest twice. Virginia must place a higher priority on all environmental areas and on preserving open space.

11.  Are residents safe enough? How do public safety officials balance new demands of "homeland security" with other safety and quality of life issues?

No.  As the Senate's representative on the SecureVirginia Panel, I am painfully aware of our vulnerabilities. We have made significant strides in coordinating planning.  With federal funding finally flowing, we are making more progress.  I have been the recognized leader in the General Assembly on domestic violence and child abuse law and programs --more than fifty pieces of legislation I sponsored have passed to improve our responses, including the Omnibus Family Violence law and Megan's Law dealing the sex offenders. As a member of the Senate Finance subcommittee on public safety, I am concerned that we are using our jails and prisons for mentally ill individuals because community mental health facilities are not available.

12. Do you have any concerns about civil liberties and public access to information in the wake of the Patriot Act and other responses to Sept. 11?

The Patriot Act has the potential of seriously undermining our civil liberties.  One must be concerned about that.  If you review my voting record, you will see I have been a stalwart supporter of the First Amendment. I believe the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of our freedoms and consistently vote to protect them.

13.  Working poor families in Northern Virginia face a daunting cost of living, with little in the way of affordable housing, health care, child care and transportation. Are low-wage workers important to the local economy? What do you propose to address the needs of these families?

Low wage workers are not just important to our economy, they are essential. And the economic pressures on them and their families is growing.  Most are working multiple jobs.  I was a member of the AHOME Board when we succeeded in getting the affordable dwelling unit law --we need to expand it to high rises.  Fortunately, Gov. Warner has made healthcare for Virginia's children a top priority and we are now among the states with the best utilization rate.  More can be done.  We need to do more in homeless prevention and transitional housing.  The bottom line is that Virginia ranks among the bottom handful of states on all indicators of human need.  We need to do better.

14. Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?


15. What is the appropriate state and local tax rate for cigarettes?

I think the rate should be the national average.  That would bring in an additional $360 million annually.  I introduced a bill to tax the manufacture of cigarettes, which would have spread the impact worldwide.  Unfortunately, it failed.

16.  What is the appropriate state and local tax rate for gasoline?

We need to put more trust fund money into mass transit.  We need to change the formula to account for congestion.

17. How would you restructure the tax code in Virginia?

We must restructure. We must decide what services we want, the quality of those services, which level of government should provide them, and how we pay for them.  Like everyone else, I am eager to see what, if anything, the legislative committee recommends.  For starters, any restructuring should give counties equal taxing authority as cities and towns.  Cigarette taxes should be raised. I will fight efforts to change the age deduction.  I anticipate a package of proposals that we will deal with in a special session next spring.

18. How should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

How would the state survive?  The income tax is the largest portion of our funding.  If we allocate responsibilities of government levels, it may make sense to allocate the income tax differently as well--but that is very hypothetical at this point.

19. What proposals do you have for mitigating the effects of soaring property values and related taxes? Do you endorse the 5 percent cap on property tax increases? f you support a cap on property tax increases, please name at least one service provided by state or local government that you currently use that you would be prepared to live without.

A reason I support equalization of taxing authority is to give counties more funding options so they can reduce the burden on homeowners.  No, I do not support a property tax cap.

20. After redistricting, Northern Virginia now has a critical mass in the General Assembly, but so far that doesn’t appear to have translated into additional political clout for the region. Why? What will you do to increase the influence of Northern Virginia in Richmond?

What critical mass???  We are still less than 30% than the legislature.  Legislators still vote the interests of their districts.  So, for example, the Prince William delegation has no interest in changing the local composite index to help Fairfax. Legislators from the rest of the state are no more willing to take money from their districts to help us than we are to deprive our constituents. Previously, the northern Virginia delegation spoke with one voice--now some new legislators are opposed to major delegation initiatives.  My own increasing seniority and position as one of three Northern Virginians on Finance will help move our agenda forward somewhat.

21. Do you favor the repeal of the Dillon Rule? Why or Why not?

The Dillon Rule needs to be modified.  Too much time in Richmond is spent enabling individual local governments around the state to do small, mundane things.  For example, I remember a few years ago when there was a major debate in the Senate over whether Fairfax County could enact an ordinance to require mowing lawns.  I spent two years working to get enabling legislation for tree preservation ordinances  -- it passed but should not have required the whole General Assembly to approve it.

22. What is right and wrong with Virginia's current laws governing abortion? Would you support any changes?

I have a completely pro-choice voting record. However, I do wish we had the option of voting for a constitutional partial-birth abortion bill, one that protects the health of the mother.  We are never given that opportunity.  As a result, the first law that passed was struck down by the courts.  The law that passed this year will be also.

I have serious concern about efforts to force clinics to meet "hospital" standards.  Those standards include such things as parking spaces and the size of custodian closets.  According to the Board of Health, passing that bill would have the effect of closing fifteen of the state's sixteen clinics.

I also oppose the related bill that would give pharmacists the right to refuse to dispense medications prescribed by doctors.  The proponents of the bill (which passed the House and was defeated in the Senate Education and Health Committee that I serve on) said it was aimed at birth control pills, emergency contraception and DepoProvera.  My opponent has written a letter saying he supported all the Family Foundation bills, of which this is one, except the referendum of last fall.

23. Would you support allowing localities to ban weapons from public buildings?

Yes.  I have consistently voted for this, and one year introduced it.

24. The state provides only a fraction of the funding for local schools that it should given requirements under the "Standards of Quality." How would you address this?

My legislation requires that the State Board of Education give an annual update on the Standards of Quality so we policy makers know what more is needed.  Once we update the SOQ, add additional students, and include the current existing shortfall, it becomes clear that public education is underfunded by about a billion dollars annually.  Governor Warner has made providing this money his top priority.  I intend to work with him to do so.

25. How would you rate the Standards of Learning tests and what improvements still need to be made?

The SOL tests have been slowly improving.  The standards and the testing are being aligned.  Teachers are getting used to the new requirements.  Students are performing better.  However, the real consequences for individual students and schools have not yet begun.  Governor Warner is piloting programs to assist at-risk students; I support those

efforts.  The federal No Child Left Behind laws are superseding the state's efforts to a

large degree -- and are not well defined or understood.  Of particular concern, is the impact

on schools with large non-native English speaking students and the impact on special

education students.

26. Should local school boards be allowed to ban all weapons on school property?

Absolutely.  I introduced legislation to do this.  The Republican-controlled House has so stacked the relevant committee that even logical legislation like this has little chance of succeeding.

27. Characterize the crisis in Virginia institutions of higher learning and what efforts you recommend in the General Assembly to shore up the quality of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

As my father used to say, we are "eating our seed corn" when it comes to higher education.  For years we have not been adequately funding it.  The result has been a dependence on out-of-state students who pay more than their cost of education and an increasing reliance on private fundraising (this is not a bad thing).  Tuition and fees, which had actual declines in recent years, are now rapidly increasing.  We have 60,000 additional students in the pipeline with no major expansions planned.  Increased federal grants and contracts are needed.  But so is additional state funding and bonding for facilities.