Vivian Watts, State Delegate, District 39

Vivian Watts, State Delegate, District 39

Office sought:  House of Delegates

Party Affiliation:  Democrat

Previous offices held; please include dates:  House of Delegates 1982-1985; Virginia Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety 1986-1990; House of Delegates 1996-

Incumbents: when elected to this position:  1996

Occupation:  Current employment (include name and address of employers):

Previous employment:  Executive Director, Fairfax Court Appointed Special Advocates; transportation  and criminal justice consultant

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates):  University of Michigan, B.A. cum laude, 1962

Community ties:  Salvation Army Board; Arts Council of Fairfax County Advisory Panel; Annandale Rotary. Formerly: Victim/Witness Board, Chair; Fairfax CASA, Executive Director; Virginia Museum of Natural History Board; Frontier Culture Museum Board; Washington Post Citizen of the Year; Virginia Chamber of Commerce Transportation, Chair; Countywide Co-Chair School Bond Referendum; Founding member of the Fairfax Committee of 100; Chair, Fairfax County Fiscal Policy Commission; League of Women Voters, President; PTA, President

List a few current endorsements you are most proud of:  I am un-opposed.  The only campaign endorsements I have received at this time are the Fairfax Education Association's and RENEW Virginia Schools'.  I did received a "Top of the Class" rating from the Fairfax Council of PTAs which does not endorse candidates and was recently recognized for outstanding legislative service by the Virginia Sheriff's Association, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and the League of Conservation Voters.

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Serving as Virginia Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety from 1986-90 during which I increased funding to Fairfax 6-fold and to Metro 5-fold; negotiated the private/public partnerships that built Route 28 and the Greenway and that permitted the VRE to use railroad right-of-way; cut construction time over 10%; and de-centralized Richmond's control including developing the first Northern Virginia 20-year plan, establishing the Northern Virginia District, and developing procedures to allow neighborhoods to control cut-through traffic.  My accomplishments in Public Safety included establishing statewide computerized fingerprint identification and DNA matching; developing a prison and jail population forecasting model; cutting prison over-time $4 million annually; initiating a prison literacy program; establishing prison capacity to handle mentally ill inmates; and developing hazardous materials response protocols.

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

I was patron in 2002 and chief co-patron with Delegate Rollison in 2003 of bills to allow us to hold VDOT accountable for on-time and on-budget performance.  Reforms also included requiring that VDOT assess needs across transportation districts and transportation modes to establish comparable statewide priorities.

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.

Transportation gridlock (see answers to questions #1, #8 and #16); large class sizes (change SOQ and provide additional local funding as discussed in questions #17, #19, #21 and #25); non-competitive teacher salaries (provide additional local funding as discussed in questions #17, #19, #21 and #25); high real estate taxes (see answers to questions #7, #17, #18, #19 and #25); and effective services to vulnerable populations (the solutions to which include increased mental health/mental retardation funding, expansion of health care coverage for low income children, assistance with the cost of critical prescription drugs, and increased nursing home staffing and elder care alternatives.)

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

Energy, broad experience, tenacity, intense curiosity, credibility, accessibility, and the love of finding win/win solutions.

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

Not applicable; I am un-opposed.

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

Be less than honest about the severity of Virginia's financial situation.

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?

The budget will have to be cut further and/or new revenues added.  We will not see the anticipated 4 percent revenue growth that was assumed in adopting our current state budget, due to the slower than anticipated economic recovery and continued uncertainty about the effect on the economy of the rapidly increasing federal deficit (which competes for the private capital needed for job creation) and the cost of military and rebuilding operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In addition, we are under great risk of losing Virginia's AAA bond rating and greatly increasing the cost of borrowing for years to come if we do not add $200 to $300 million to the rainy day fund in lieu of the ability we have had to take that much annually from it to balance recent budgets.  Even with additional cuts and cost savings from continued assessment of every aspect of governmental operations, services for the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill will be cut further; environmental preservation will not proceed; access to higher education will be further limited and tuitions raised; and Fairfax will not receive adequate state school funding which will put additional pressure on real estate taxes.  New sources of revenue would mitigate these impacts.

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.

The gas tax has lost 60% of its buying power since it was last increased 15 years ago. These very limited funds should be focused on increasing the capacity of our existing transit system and on road improvements that will improve traffic flow. Private/public partnerships are needed to fund major investments, such as, HOT/transit lanes within the beltway’s right-of-way and immediate transit options for the Dulles and I-66 corridors that will integrate with future rail extensions.  The goal of my legislation to require that priorities be established statewide and across modes is to document the need to change the state allocation formula.  Specifically, I believe statewide prioritization will justify my bill to allocate funds on the basis of the number of vehicles per lane mile would reflect the impact of congestion.

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? Can more emphasis on smart growth help offset some of the effects of suburban development?

There are two flaws in the process of adopting a Master Plan and one in its execution by local governments.  The first flaw is that, while Master Plans contain a Transportation Plan, the transportation elements historically have not been funded.  The second is that re-zonings base on Master Plan land use designations have not been held by the Courts to be subject to available local services, even though Virginia statutes ( ie, § 15.2-2283) state that zoning decisions can take into account the adequacy of transportation and of community facilities to handle the density of population.  The significant flaw in the execution of zoning powers by local governments is inconsistency:  once zoning decisions are made by one set of elected officials, the courts will find denials made by future officials regarding comparable properties to be an arbitrary and capricious denial of the landowner's property rights.

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

My top environmental priorities are:  Preservation of key tracts of land that enhance the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay either by outright purchase, tax incentives for protective covenants, or compensation for scenic or other easements to prohibit development; Enactment of solid waste tipping fees to fully cover the costs of current and future environmental protections with compensation to those facilities such as Fairfax's that are in compliance; and Significantly increased transit and improved traffic management.

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

As long as we have the intensity of hatred against America by people who have the intelligence, discipline, and resources to carry out an attack such as that which occurred on 9/11, we can never be safe.  As the problems stemming from the Fairfax Water Authority's lack of adequate back-up for its filtration system during Isabel demonstrated, the expense of infrastructure protection that it is hoped will never be used has been difficult to justify in the face of severely reduced funding available to meet immediate, on-going program needs.

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?

I am concerned, particularly when local and state government programs (such as, public education and licensure to drive) are the major point of contact between individuals and the government.  These non-federal programs are being asked to take on  immigration screening that should be done by INS or, at least, be based on accurate information readily accessible from an adequately staffed INS.

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?

Of course, low-wage workers are important to the local economy.  Nevertheless, because of the great spread between wealth and poverty in Virginia and differences in cost-of-living, it is not usually beneficial to address the needs of their families through state programs -- much more flows out of Northern Virginia than flows in under statewide guidelines.  For this reason, providing affordable housing, child care and transportation are typically best done locally.  However, Virginia can do much more in the provision of health care by taking greater advantage of federal funds available through Medicaid and by working more cooperatively with local social service deliverers, as was done to dramatically increase enrollment of children of the working poor in health coverage under CHIPS.

14. Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?


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

The bill that I introduced in the 2003 General Assembly would have raised the state cigarette tax to 25-cents and would have allowed any locality (county or city) to enact a local cigarette tax of up to 50-cents, the rate currently charged in several Virginia cities.  Where fully enacted it would raise the combined state/local tax in line with other states, while allowing other areas of the Commonwealth to reflect local differences in attitudes about tobacco.

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

Because it does not reflect miles per gallon or the cost of gasoline, we have lost over 60% of the buying power of the gasoline tax since it was last increased over 15 years ago.  A 5-cent state tax and a 5-cent local tax would re-capture most of that loss while putting Virginia's gas tax in line with our neighboring states and giving localities more control over the use of transportation funds to meet their most pressing needs.

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

We need to adjust the rates and exemptions to account in part for the fact that if the lowest rate of $3,000 had been indexed when it was enacted in the 1920s it would now be over $27,000.  The actual adjustment should have the effect of preserving the Age Tax Credit while extending it to all low income taxpayers.  We need to eliminate the food tax and make up the difference by taxing consumer services and directly taxing internet sales.  We need to raise the cigarette tax.  We need to grant counties the same taxing power as cities.  We should replace the car tax with a local option income tax.  We need to define situs to stop the drain of Virginia's corporate taxes out of state.  We need to define situs for business activity within Virginia so that we can do away with and replace the gross receipts tax.  We need to further shield small businesses and farms with situs in Virginia from the inheritance tax.

18. Should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

Yes, that local option should be established upon the constitutional repeal of the car tax.  However, it is definitely not in Fairfax County's interest to have a portion of the state income tax returned to localities unless it is returned to point of origin.  A needs-based formula would put Fairfax taxpayers even further in the hole.

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? 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.

Because Fairfax County is treated like a rural county, the real estate tax is the only local source of revenue that has not been frozen or prohibited under state law.  We need to have the same broad taxing powers as other urban areas. Taxing cigarettes, hotel rooms, and restaurant meals as they do in Arlington, Alexandria, and all cities in the Commonwealth would provide significant relief on real estate taxes.  Alternatively, the state school funding formula needs to be changed to reflect the taxing powers we actually have to raise local revenue for schools.  I introduced such a bill in 2003, which would have given Fairfax County significantly more state funds and would have put a city like Virginia Beach (which currently receives one of the highest state payments per school child) and Fairfax County (which currently receives one of the lowest) on equal footing.  I do not endorse the 5 percent cap on property tax increases because it does not allow for losses or lack of growth in other sources of local revenue, principally state school funding, federal funds, and the local sales tax.

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?

There is more of a difference in philosophy than in the past and more focus on party politics, even after elections are over.  I will continue to engage in constructive dialogue on issues where my substantive background can help shape new solutions that do not have un-intended consequences.

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

While the Dillon Rule serves as a check and balance to the dominate form of local government in Virginia which does not have separate legislative and executive branches, it is often over-used.  Localities should be able to bar guns from public buildings, school grounds and recreational centers where the nature of the community makes this a public safety issue.  Fairfax County should be able to regulate parking on residential streets.

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

I support a woman's right to make this most personal moral decision within the trimester stipulations of Roe v. Wade.  While 13 of the 17 U.S. Supreme Court justices who have reviewed Roe v. Wade have upheld the constitutionality of protecting a woman's life and health, legislation has been pushed the Virginia General Assembly that excludes or compromises consideration of a woman's health.  Even though such legislation has been repeatedly found to be un-constitutional, strong voices in the Virginia legislature are spurred by the fact that the 4 justice who have held against Roe v. Wade are currently on the Court.  They want to have a law passed in Virginia to be the challenge that finally overturns Roe v. Wade.

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


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?

Before I would support any additional sources of revenue to close the funding gap statewide, we must change the way those funds are allocated.  Otherwise, the additional state tax(es) paid by Fairfax County residents will not help our schools nor relieve our real estate taxes.  The formula should reflect a locality's actual authority to raise local funds and not be driven by 4-year-old personal income figures.

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

I remain concerned that SOLs not be used as the sole basis for graduation or passing; that the first focus of SOL tests be  remediation to improve the student's or the school's performance; and that curriculum not be gutted to teach to the test.  However, federal testing under "No Child Left Behind" is far worse.  It doubles the number of grades that will be tested; requires that all students take the same test (including disabled students and students who are not yet English proficient); and takes away a school's accreditation if 60 percent of students in each category do not pass, including those in a special education learning center within the school.

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


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.

Repeated budget cuts put us at risk of under-cutting the reputation of Virginia's finest university programs, thus cheapening the economic value of degrees from those institutions.  Cuts have already increased the cost of a degree, not only in tuition increases, but in the need to go extra semesters to be able to take necessary degree courses whose availability has been limited by the inability to hire additional faculty.  Qualified Virginia high school and, for the first time, community college graduates are not able to continue their education because budget cuts have not allowed universities to increase their enrollments to meet the demand of the baby-boomlet population surge and of students continuing their education because of a weak job market.  We need to fund more capacity; require that part of any tuition increase be used by the university to increase available student aid; and strengthen university research capabilities by resolving issues of intellectual property and faculty compensation under private/public partnerships.