Jeannemarie Devolites, State Senate, District 34

Jeannemarie Devolites, State Senate, District 34

Office sought:  State Senate

Party Affiliation:  Republican

Previous offices held:  House of Delegates, 1998 to present

Occupation:  Technology Consultant

Current Employment:  ICG Government

Previous Employment:  Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld

Education:  BA, Mathematics, UVA, 1978 and Honorary Doctor of Humane Letter, National Lewis University, 2000

Community Ties:

*        Board of Directors, SallieMae

*        Board of Trustees, Virginia International University

*        Board of Directors, HomeAid

*        Board of Directors, Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts

*        Board of Directors, Arts and Education in Concert

*        Board of Directors, Jobs for Virginia's Graduates

*        Member, Healthy Families Fairfax Advisory Board

*        Honorary Member, Alzheimers Family Day Center Board

*        Member and Past President, Tysons Corner Rotary

*        Member, Tysons Vienna Regional Chamber of Commerce

*        Member, Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce

*        Member, Oakton Women's Club

*        Member, New Providence Republican Women's Club

*        Member, Historic Vienna

Endorsements:  Fairfax Education Association, Virginia Education Association, Professional Firefighters, Fraternal Order of Police, RENEW, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Northern Virginia Technology Council

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

My top accomplishment is having sponsored 75 bills that have passed through the House and Senate and been signed into law, by the Governor, during my six years in the House of Delegates.  The two most significant of these bills is my anti-spamming legislation, which now includes criminal penalties for spammers.  This legislation is presently being utilized to investigate a child pornography spammer in Virginia.  The other bill, is my legislation which created FAMIS, a Federal matching program that provides health care for the children of the working class poor.

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

Although I am not an incumbent in the Senate District, since I have served as a member of the House of Delegates, the past six years, I will answer this question.  My top accomplishment of my last term is the anti-spamming legislation that I referred to in question number one.

My House District has excellent schools and very safe neighborhoods.  The greatest problem is traffic - a universal problem throughout northern Virginia.  This has been a problem long before I was elected to office and was created by local governments permitting extraordinary growth, in all of northern Virginia, without providing the necessary transportation infrastructure to accommodate the resulting increase in traffic.  This is a problem that every legislator has been grappling with, Democrat and Republican, for years. The solution is clear - increased mass transit capacity, as well as a mass transit network that takes people where they work; incentives for carpooling and telecommuting; improvements of existing highways and secondary roads; and additional bridges, across the Potomac, outside of the Beltway.  These projects add up to tens of billions of dollars, which, during this budget shortfall, are not presently available.  I have taken a leadership role in trying to bring the private and public sectors together to advance some of these projects at minimal cost to the taxpayers.

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.

As I stated in Question #2, the growing traffic gridlock is our number one problem.  We have schools in my district that continue to use classroom trailers and are in dire need of renovations.  Escalating real estate taxes is a real problem for senior citizens and young families.  Health care is becoming harder and harder to afford.  Those with mental health disabilities are finding it challenging to receive the services they need to enable them to be productive members of our community.

As we look at restructuring the tax system in Virginia, we need to seriously consider the local governments' too heavy reliance on property taxes to meet their revenue needs.  We need to work out a way to share state income tax revenue with the local governments, so that they are able to reduce real estate taxes.  Allowing county governments to tax cigarettes (an ability that cities presently have) will enable them to raise significant revenues and rely less on real estate taxes, as well.  Although we've cut $6 billion from the budget, the past three years, we have continued to increase education funding.  The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has indicated, in a recent study, that the Commonwealth of Virginia is underfunding its legally required share of education funding.  We closed that gap by $500 million this past session and need to work to close the gap, completely.  If the state pays it's obligatory share of educational costs, that reduces the burden on local government, once again enabling real estate taxes to go down, or for local government to increase it's funding of transportation.

Overwhelming increases in real estate taxes and increased traffic gridlock are not problems that most of the rest of the state is facing.

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

I bring six years of experience, as a legislator, in the House of Delegates.  I was elected into the leadership, as Majority Whip, after serving only four years.  I believe that this shows my strength, not only as a leader, but as a good listener and consensus builder.  The significant amount of legislation that I have successfully sponsored also shows my capability, as a legislator, to work with my colleagues and to choose legislation that is of significance and importance, not only to my District, but to the entire Commonwealth.  Although we are a part time citizen legislature, I work more than full time providing constituent service, attending community events and of course, being in Richmond, during the session and attending numerous commission and committee meetings during the remainder of the year.  I clearly bring a strong work ethic and dedication to my job as a legislator.

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

Once again, I bring six very successful years of experience as a legislator and my opponent has never served in public office.  I believe we are experiencing one of the most challenging times in our Commonwealth's history, with continued budget shortfalls and homeland security concerns.  Knowledge of the issues and experience are imperative, as we head into a session that lasts only 60 days to grapple with extremely challenging issues.

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

I promise not to vote for any budget or bill that eliminates the senior citizen tax credit.  As I campaign, I hear over and over again, from our retired citizens who are on fixed incomes that it is challenging for them to afford to stay in their homes due to the huge increase in real estate taxes.  Increasing the tax burden for our senior citizens, by eliminating the tax credit, is the wrong thing to do.

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?

Although the economy is slowly turning around and we are seeing growth in revenues, the Governor has indicated that the increased demand for services, due to population growth, is outpacing the increase in revenues.  As a result, he anticipates a one billion dollar shortfall for the next biennium.  In addition, Moody's has put Virginia on the watch list with a possible result of lowering our cherished triple A bond rating (we are one of only eight states with this highly coveted bond rating).  If our bond rating is lowered, we will pay higher interest rates for our bonds – not just for future indebtedness, but for some bonds that we are currently obligated for.  This will result in an additional shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is imperative that we take budget actions that will make our budget structurally sound. We must eliminate the "one time fixes"? that we have used to balance the budget, which is one of the items that Moody's cited as a contributor to the unsoundness of our budget.  This will result in further shortfalls.  The car tax, which is a recurring expenditure (approaching one billion dollars), was also mentioned as a problem.  In tax restructuring, we must eliminate the car tax and replace those dollars, in a revenue neutral manner.  These actions will make the budget structurally sound.  We have cut the budget $6 billion, the past three years.  We have cut higher ed, resulting in higher tuitions; health and human services, resulting in more people on waiting lists for health care and mental health services – the Governor even cut the DMV's budget, resulting in longer lines.  The Governor and the legislature have been putting Government reform measures into place, which are resulting in greater efficiencies and a reduction in the cost of running the state government.  We need to continue these actions, but even those actions will not make up for the massive cuts that loom ahead.

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.

As I indicated in Question #2, we require billions of dollars in order to accomplish all of the projects necessary to solve the transportation dilemma.  Because the dollars are not presently available, we need to make use of some transportation initiatives that we have recently passed in the legislature.  One of those initiatives is the Public Private Transportation Act, which allows contractors to make unsolicited bids for projects that they are willing to coinvest in.  One such project is HOT lanes along the Beltway.  Flour has proposed to build the HOT lanes, using a successful model from California, which would take fewer than ten homes (the present VDOT model, which NO legislator supports, would take almost 400 homes).  The debt is paid by the tolls collected from the HOT lane users.  This means little to no cost to the taxpayers, as those using the HOT lanes would pay for the project.  The result would be reduced traffic on the Beltway.  This idea should be utilized for other major roadways, such as the Dulles Toll Road, I-66 and I-95.  The dollars that we do have available need to be better utilized in improving traffic flow on our major secondary roads.  This involves adding turn lanes and synchronizing traffic lights on roads such as Routes 123, 7, 50 and 29.  These actions would result in better traffic flow.  We need to work with our Congressmen to acquire federal dollars, particularly for mass transit to Dulles airport.  We need to look at utilizing tolls for any NEW roads that we decide to build.  Fairfax County needs to determine that transportation is a priority and use its bonding capacity to add additional dollars for transportation improvements, as well – something it has not done for eleven years.

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 service 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?

Fairfax County has a master plan, which was developed years ago.  This plan details the type of zoning and the number of homes per acre in residentially zoned areas.  I believe that a significant reason that we have seen overdevelopment is due to the fact that when a developer goes before the Board of Supervisors and asks for a special exception to build more homes per acre than the master plan calls for, the Board approves the request.  The Board has agreed to this additional development, without providing for sufficient additional classrooms or transportation upgrades.  The Board of Supervisors needs to learn to say NO.  Generally speaking, Prince William and Loudoun Counties are balancing their growth decisions and are able to keep up with the increased demand for education and transportation infrastructure.  So yes, I believe that the Board of Supervisors has it within their power to oversee a balanced approach to growth.

The concept of "smart growth", where higher densities are clustered around METRO stops is a great concept.  It would be a winning concept if mass transit delivered people to where they work.  Unfortunately, METRO takes people to work only along the I-66 corridor and to downtown Washington.  A huge number of our residents work in Tysons, Fairview Park, Fair Lakes, Reston, Herndon, etc.  They clearly cannot take METRO to work, so living near a METRO station doesn't take them off the roads.  Where there is denser population, there also needs to be enough commercial development to enable the residents to shop and work nearby, so they can walk or ride their bikes.  As I recall, Reston was supposed to be such a planned community but few who live in Reston walk to work or to shopping.

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

Clean air and water are certainly top priorities.  We face a challenge in northern Virginia, as air quality has become a concern to the Federal government and, if it continues to worsen, we will lose our Federal transportation funding.  Part of our dilemma is the fact that pollutants from the Midwestern part of the nation are blowing into our region. We need to invest in mass transit and incentives for carpooling and telecommuting to reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways.  Using our transportation dollars to build turn lanes and improve synchronization of traffic lights will also keep traffic moving, which is far less polluting than traffic at a standstill.

As a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we need to be concerned about pollutants eking into our ground water, which eventually find their way into the Bay.  We have passed legislation in the past that requires landfills to have liners that prevent seepage.  There has also been legislation regulating the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which can also find their way into the Bay by seeping into the groundwater.

Open space has been an important issue in the legislature since I was first elected.  One of the initiatives that Republicans took hold of was the Commonwealth's acquisition of open space.  When Republicans took the majority, we allocated general fund dollars for the purchase of open space, for the first time in the General Assembly's history. I would support the continuation of this appropriation.

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

Generally speaking, I would say that residents in my district are safe.  We are seeing a surge in gangs, however, which is being addressed by Attorney General Kilgore and Congressman Frank Wolf.  Congressman Wolf has created a task force, made up of law enforcement officials and experts and we look forward to the recommendations from the task force to guide us in creating necessary legislation to help curb this problem.  The General Assembly, these past few years, has continued to pass stronger penalties for those who commit crimes, particularly for those who are driving under the influence.  We have passed and funded legislation which civilly commits sexually violent predators, when they are released from prison, so they cannot find their way back into the community.

Homeland security is our newest public safety issue.  Homeland Security Chief John Hager has indicated that we have received millions of dollars from the Federal government for homeland security.  The General Assembly was extremely concerned to hear that nine of the September 11th terrorists had Virginia driver's licenses, even though they were not here legally.  We have passed legislation that will prevent that from happening again.

Computer crimes are escalating and are a relatively new area for law enforcement.  I sponsored antispamming legislation which provides for criminal penalties for spammers who are located in Virginia.  Identity theft is growing and is an area that I am studying as Chairman of the Joint Subcommittee studying public access to court records.

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 September 11?

As I mentioned in Question #11, I chair a subcommittee that is studying that very issue.  I have been working with the Virginia Press Association, as well as the Open Government group to make sure that as we look at privacy issues, as they relate to public records and government operations, we do not cloak the actions of government in secrecy.  The actions of government must remain transparent in order to avoid corruption and favoritism, which erode the public's trust.

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 a necessary component of our economy.  It is extremely difficult for low wage workers to provide for their families, in northern Virginia with the high cost of living.  One of the issues that I have taken on during my tenure in the House of Delegates has been health care for the children of the working class poor.  I sponsored the legislation that created FAMIS, which is a federal matching program.  For every dollar that Virginia invests, the Feds match with two dollars.  I have continued to carry an omnibus bill, every year, to improve outreach and the program's administration so that families can easily apply and utilize the program.  Providing health care to these children in this manner actually results in a cost savings, as the children receive preventative care (including immunizations) which means that they are healthier.  Without this health insurance, these children and their families use the emergency room as their means of health care, presenting when they are very ill, which costs tremendous dollars and ultimately results in increased health care costs for all of us.

As we move people from TANF (welfare) to jobs it is imperative that child care and transportation be made available, so that moms (many of whom are single) are able to work, which not only gives them dignity, but enables them to become contributing members of the community.

14.  Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?

Yes.  Equalization of taxing authority would allow counties to rely less on real estate taxes resulting in lowering those taxes.

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

It is difficult to put an exact figure on the rate without further study.  I do support an increase in the cigarette tax and feel strongly that an increase should be tied to health and education spending.  Medicaid makes up 16% of our discretionary spending and continues to increase.  Those who smoke cigarettes usually suffer more health related problems than non-smokers, which results in an increase in the cost of health care for all of us.  It is appropriate to have smokers pay a larger share of their health care costs.

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

It is difficult to put an exact figure on this rate, as well, without further study.  We need to know how much each cent would generate in increased revenues.  Because of increased fuel efficiency consumers are purchasing less gasoline, which has resulted in declining revenues collected through the gas tax.  I believe it is very appropriate to look at the gasoline tax in generating revenues for transportation projects, as it equates to a users fee.

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

There are 140 legislators + 1 Governor and that many answers to this question.  I do believe that the personal property tax on cars needs to be eliminated.  The BPOL tax, which taxes businesses on gross receipts should either be eliminated or based on net, rather than gross.  Eliminating these taxes will require that those revenues be replaced.  We also need to look at revenue sharing with the local governments.  This would require the state to share a certain percentage of state income tax revenue with the local government.  This would result in reducing  the local governments' reliance on real estate taxes, enabling them to lower them.

18.  Should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

If you're asking if I support a local income tax, the answer is no.

19.  What proposals do you have for mitigating the effects of soaring property values and related taxes? Do you support a cap on property tax increases? If 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.

I have addressed this question in several of the above Questions (equalization of taxing authority and revenue sharing with the Commonwealth).  If we take these steps then the Board of Supervisors will have the tools they need to reduce their dependence on the real estate tax.  While I believe real estate taxes have increased far too dramatically and feel that we need to slow down (or even reverse) their growth, passing a law or ordinance with a specific cap will result in the downgrading of the County's AAA bond rating.  The bond rating firms need to be assured that the local government is not hamstrung in any way in its ability to pay the obligations on its debt.  Loss of the AAA bond rating will result in higher interest payments, which will cost taxpayers more to build roads and schools.

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?

Redistricting brought us one additional state senator and two additional delegates – that hardly adds up to a critical mass!  The northern Virginia Delegation makes up about 28% of the legislature.  In order to pass legislation we need 51% of the vote.  The only way to bring more dollars to northern Virginia is to partner with other regions so we have the majority of the vote.  We have passed several transportation initiatives the past couple of years, by partnering with the Hampton Roads region and those along the I-81 corridor.  This of course means we have to share the resources with these other regions.

This past session, the Republican House members created a bill, which our Democrat colleagues co-patroned, that would change the funding formula for K-12 education.  This bill would have held all other localities harmless in that it would have gradually decreased the amount of money the wealthier localities contribute to the poorer localities, as the budget grew.  It also provided that those localities who had a decrease in student population would remain level (except as adjusted by inflation), while those localities who had an increase in student population would see an increase in education funding.  This would result in more of Fairfax County's dollars remaining in the County.  The bill, which was written by Jim Dillard and carried by Dave Albo, was killed in the Education Committee.  We then submitted a floor amendment to the budget, doing the same thing, but it, too, was killed.

Delegate Tom Rust has put a bill the past two years that would include traffic volume as a part of the formula for transportation funding.  That bill has not made it out of committee as it does not positively affect 51% of the jurisdictions.  The northern Virginia delegation will continue to submit legislation and will continue to partner with other regions to attempt to affect change in these areas.

21.  Would you favor the repeal of the Dillon rule? Why or why not?

I am still educating myself on the full consequences of repealing the Dillon rule, but lean toward favoring the repeal.  I feel that government needs to be close to the people and the people are closest to their local government.  If the people don't like how their local elected officials are running their locality, they certainly have the ability to elect new officials. Virginia is an extremely diverse state and what works for one locality or region doesn't necessarily work for another.  The legislature would still have the ability to pass laws, that supersede local government ordinances, just as Federal law supersedes state law, which provides us with a continued checks and balances system.

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

With Governor Warner's approval, we have passed parental consent and a partial birth infanticide ban in Virginia.

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

Yes, I have continued to support that legislation.

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

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee determined, in a recent study, that Virginia is not fully funding its obligation to local governments for K-12 education, under the Standards of Quality requirement.  Although we have cut billions of dollars from the budget, the past few years, we have continued to increase SOQ funding closing the gap by $500 million this past session.  A sizable gap still exists and the General Assembly must make it a priority to continue increasing education funding so that we fulfill our legal obligation.  Because the Commonwealth is not fully funding the SOQ's, the local governments have to make up the difference.  By fully funding the SOQ's, the local government's burden will be reduced enabling them to reduce real estate taxes or use the dollars for other priorities, such as transportation.

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

I believe that the State Board of Education and the General Assembly have done a good job of listening to parents and educators and have responded by making the necessary changes to make sure the tests are appropriate and fair.  I do have some concerns about the No Child Left Behind program that Congress and the President have enacted.  We have worked hard in Virginia to make sure that our testing program (the SOLs) accommodate non-English speaking children and those with acute learning disabilities.  I am arranging a meeting with Superintendent Domenech and our northern Virginia Congressmen, to provide Mr. Domenech with the opportunity to educate them about the additional challenges and burdens that NCLB has created, so that they can take appropriate action.

I think we have seen remarkable progress with the SOLs.  Schools that have had difficulty teaching their children to read and develop math skills are now showing significant progress and success.  Math, Science and English skills seem to be fairly straight forward.  The great challenge has been in Social Studies.  The State Board of Education has worked well with the education community to make the necessary changes in test questions, making sure that the children are tested on the material that they have learned that school year. I believe that accountability in our schools is important, but it needs to be accomplished in a fair manner and I believe the State Board of Education has done a good job in accomplishing a fair system of accountability.

We must be diligent in providing remediation to those children who need the extra help so that they can successfully pass the tests.

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

Yes.  I have consistently voted for this.

27.  Characterize the financial situation 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 we have faced budget shortfalls, higher education funding has been cut.  This has resulted in increased tuition payments by students and their parents.  Just a few years ago, we rolled back higher education tuition by 20%.  The tuition increases that we've seen recently, are just bringing tuition back to where it was before the roll back, although in some cases it is a little higher.  The voters approved a $900 million bond referendum for higher education, last November, which will enable the universities to build additional facilities over the next ten years.  This will enable the universities to increase their student population, which is important as the number of students, in Virginia, continues to increase.  The universities are becoming more creative in response to the shortfall.  UVA has decided to become a "private public" as it is able to raise more in private funds than it receives in state funding.  UVA Law school has become private.

One of the goals of the administration is to improve the ranking of our universities in the area of research and development.  I carried a package of bills last session that will better enable the universities to partner with the private sector to commercialize their research and development.  This is another way to bring additional dollars to the universities.