Mark Sickles, State Delegate, District 43

Mark Sickles, State Delegate, District 43

Office sought: House of Delegates, 43d District

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Previous offices held; please include dates:

Incumbents: when elected to this position:

Occupation: Government and Public Relations

Current employment: Self employed

Previous employment: Executive Director, Dredging Contractors of America

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates) Clemson University, B.S. Forest Management, 1981, Georgia Tech, M.S. Industrial Management, 1984, Georgia Tech, M.S. Technology & Science Policy, 1986

Community ties: Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 2003—present, Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees, 1993—present, former Chairman, Board, United Community Ministries, 1995-2001, former President, Southeast Health Planning Task Force, 2003—present, Citizens Bond Committees (public safety and parks), 1998 & 2002

ENDORSEMENTS: Virginia Education Association, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club

1.   What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Almost 11 years of service on the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees.  During that time we opened the Kingstowne Library, a public-private partnership.  The building is free to the County for 20 years.  When I was chairman, we won approval of a ten-year capital plan that includes a regional library in the heart of the 43d District that will eventually replace the Kingstowne community branch.  Over seven acres of land formerly zoned for multi-family housing has been purchased and set aside for the library.

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

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.

1)     Excessive growth without accompanying infrastructure

2)     Lack of frequent, user friendly public transit and lack of resources to improve Metrorail, e.g., 6/8 car trains, number of trains, parking

3)     High real estate property taxes

4)     Too many pedestrian unfriendly areas

5)     Affordable health care and prescription drug coverage

Different from elsewhere in state:

Due to our existing density, we need more transit oriented development within a quarter mile of Metro (walking distance).  We need to move some of our state transportation spending into public transit in order to get commuters out of their cars.  We need to employ innovative financing for transportation projects.  We need to develop a cross county transportation system that moves people quickly from the Springfield Transportation Center to the Tysons business corridor.

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

I have a lifetime of experience working with the public sector.  I moved here as an employee of the Army Corps of Engineers before working for two trade associations.  I recently opened my own business.  I have been elected by my peers to leadership on the Library Board, on the UCM Board, and in the Democratic Party.  I have a reputation as a problem solver and a consensus builder (I still have many friends after chairing the Democratic Party!).  I am going to work on the hard problems of government especially improving the strained relationship between state government and local government.  I am going to be a day-to-day partner for Supervisors Kauffman and Hyland in building a more livable community.

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

The voters will see me between elections working to improve our community.  I will have an ongoing electronic dialogue with the community.  They will know what I am trying to do and I will listen for, and try to build, a consensus for our future growth as a community.  For example, on the 3d or 4th Saturday in January 2004, I will hold a budget summit to deconstruct the proposed state budget and discuss potential changes and priorities.

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

Disappear after the election, abandon campaign promises, and take credit for the work of others.

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 outlook is bleak.  If the economy does not turn around and thus produce more state revenue under the existing tax structure (which according to the Governor puts Virginia at 46 in tax burden), then parents will likely be paying even higher tuition and more out-of-state students will likely be welcomed to our campuses.  The unmet need for mental health services will grow.  Transportation investment will remain stagnant.  As much as we appreciate the work of various non-profits, I would look to cutting non-state agencies that currently receive state funding.  I would also try not to dig the hole any deeper by further reducing taxes outside of a comprehensive tax reform package that treats Fairfax County fairly and returns more of our tax contribution directly to the County government and thereby reduces real estate property taxes.

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.

(This is hard to answer in 100 words)

Last year, voters rejected a sales tax increase that would have generated $5 billion for Northern Virginia, a referendum for which the incumbent refused to take a position.

Now, we must do at least these four things:

First, we must work toward making sure that our roads can accommodate traffic before building commences.  We need to promote transit-oriented development.

Second, we must shift transportation dollars to improved bus service and Bus Rapid Transit.

Third, we must shift transportation dollars toward improving traffic flow., i.e., signalization, intersection and turning lane improvements.

Fourth, work on more public-private partnerships and the use of revenue based financing.

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?

I am going to be a working partner for Supervisor Kauffman who is seeking more tools to better time phase our growth.  The only way that state and local government can cope with the additional demand for services is to require a greater contribution from the development community.  Our continued unabated growth and sprawl is not paying for itself and is causing an increase in taxes on the homeowner.  Smarter, transit oriented growth is a large part of the answer.  We have a great opportunity in Springfield to create such a place in the revitalization process.

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

The top priority is to give local government tools, like tax abatement and deferral programs, to retain the open spaces now in private hands.  We need to invest in parks—I am thankful for the foresight of earlier leaders on this score but more needs to be done.  We need to work on non-point source water pollution and combined sewer overflow problems in order to improve the Chesapeake Bay and our local rivers.  To improve air quality, we need to buy hybrid automobiles for public fleets, lure commuters to transit, and improve traffic chokepoints.

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

We can be thankful for a low crime rate that allows us to have the smallest per capita police force in the U.S. for a jurisdiction our size.  However, we need to build our police force so that we can have a larger presence in our neighborhoods to cut down on speeding through residential areas and enforcing the growing number of quality of life violations.

We also always need to be prepared for a terrorist disaster in our communities.  I served on the citizens bond committee that explained the need for a new crisis response center in Fairfax County to voters.

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 have some concerns but do not believe the federal government has yet overstepped its bounds in light of the terrorist threat.

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?

We must make an effort at the state and local level to provide affordable housing to the neediest among us—not only is it a moral imperative, our economy is dependent on workers who need this housing.  I am proud that the Warner Administration is responsible for vastly improving health care for the children of the working poor.  I was on the Board of United Community Ministries for six years and served as President.  UCM provides excellent early childhood care in a rich learning environment for the working poor at the BEL Center.  Every child deserves the same commitment and preparation for formal schooling.

14. Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?


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

I would not put our retailers at a disadvantage vis-à-vis Maryland.  A combined state and local tax in the neighborhood of 60-70 cents would be appropriate.

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

We need a rate that gives us the same buying power the current rate had when enacted.

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

I would start by sending a small percentage of the income taxes currently sent to Richmond directly back to local government in order to reduce property taxes.  This type initiative, supported by VACO and VML, would have to start small but grow each year so that both the state and local governments can plan.  In addition to items listed previously, we need to look in a comprehensive package at broadening the application of the sales tax (including working on now exempt internet sales in concert with other states) and closing tax incentive loopholes that were added in the 1990s.

18. Should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

Local government has not been able to use the existing authority and fixing the problem should be a very last resort.  As stated above, we should first work toward getting some of our existing income tax sent back to localities starting small and growing as the economy recovers.

19. What proposals do you have for mitigating the effects of soaring property values and related taxes?

See above answers 14 and 17.

Do you endorse the 5 percent cap on property tax increases? No.

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.

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?

There is very little leadership in the Northern Virginia delegation willing or able to work toward agreement on the major issues of the day.  Ideology is winning out over practical problem-solving.  Politicians have been running against government for so long that voters do not trust it at all to their own detriment (trailer classrooms, large class sizes, traffic congestion, etc.)  It is ironic that there is less cohesion in the Northern Virginia delegation than ever when our clout should be at an historic high.

What will you do to increase the influence of Northern Virginia in Richmond?

I have a lifetime of experience working with people of divergent viewpoints to find common ground.  I have made a successful career as an advocate and have a wealth of experience as a community leader.  We have only One Virginia.  That requires us to understand downstate needs but for them to understand that our tax generosity extends only so far.  We need to be tough and hang together as a delegation in order to successfully improve our current poor performance with regard to return on investment.  The biggest overarching issue is to improve the state’s performance in responding to our enormous growth.

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

No, I would not favor repeal but would lean toward giving localities more powers if they seek them.  It is really ridiculous some of the things the state needs to approve that should be local in nature.  On the positive side, the Dillon Rule makes it easier for business to operate across the state under similar rules.

22. What is right and wrong with Virginia’s current laws governing abortion?

The recent addition of the requirement for notarization of parental consent goes too far and is too intrusive on the most private decision a family might have to make.

Would you support any changes?

I support keeping abortion safe and legal in Virginia.  I would also support initiatives that might reduce the number of abortions like supporting poor young mothers and sex education.

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?

We need to work to reform of the Local Composite Index to reduce its current reliance on property value and income and/or setting a higher minimum floor for a locality.  Also, I want to return a portion of our existing income tax revenue directly back to the County, most of which would go to education.

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

I think they have helped improve our lowest performing schools in Virginia and therefore are a success.  It is hard to argue that Langley High School students are any better off today, however.  One size does not fit all and I think our local school board should largely make policy with some overall direction and support from the State Board of Education.  The new federal law is going to require even more tests—while the intent is good, it is going to be the Mother of All Unfunded Mandates.  It is not going to help solve our current over reliance on the property tax.

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.

Higher education is a very high priority—our reputation is now threatened.  Due to our financial condition, however, as revenues improve we need to consider more money for need-based aid and letting the universities move toward more market-oriented pricing.  This could result in less reliance on the out-of-state students at Virginia’s schools that are now subsidizing Virginians but also reducing the number of slots for Virginians (UNC limits out of state students to 18 percent while William & Mary and UVA have about 36 percent).  We would still have a significant price advantage over similar quality private schools and many parents of qualified students would welcome an opening for their son or daughter.