Mary Margaret Whipple, State Senate, District 31

Mary Margaret Whipple, State Senate, District 31

Office sought: Senate District 31

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Previous offices held; please include dates: Arlington County Board, 1983-95 (Chair 1986, 1994); Arlington School Board, 1976-80 (Chair, 1978-79).

Incumbents: when elected to this position: Elected in 1995. Took office in January 1996.

Occupation: Elected official

Current employment (include name and address of employers): Senate of Virginia, General Assembly Building, Richmond, VA 23218

Previous employment: Instructor, Northern Virginia Community College;

Editor, US Office of Education

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates)

Rice University, 1958-60

American University, B.A. 1962

George Washington University, M.A. 1969

Community ties:

Board of Management, Veterans Memorial Branch, YMCA

Arlington Branch, American Association of University Women

Honorary Board, Reading is Fundamental

League of Women Voters

Arlington Kiwanis Club

Committee of 100

Church of the Covenant, Presbyterian, member and Elder

List a few current endorsements you are most proud of:

League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action

Virginia Education Association, Fairfax PTA "Top of the Class"

Platform for the Advancement of Civic Empowerment (PACE)-

A Muslim-American PAC

Virginia AFL-CIO

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Passage of the Virginia Nontidal Wetlands Protection Act.

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

As stated above, my top accomplishment was the passage of the Virginia Nontidal Wetlands Protection Act although I have passed legislation of statewide significance in each year I have served in the Senate.

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.

Environmental issues


Affordable housing

In-fill development

Maintaining the high quality of the schools

The challenge in Senate District 31 is to maintain the friendly neighborhoods and services of a suburban area while dealing with the realities of an urban environment.

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

My sincere concern for constituents and my open door policy have characterized my service in elected office.

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

My knowledge of my community, meaningful interaction with my constituents for many years and my extensive experience in state and local government make me highly qualified for re-election.

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

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?

For the next two years Virginia can expect to continue to experience a tight budget situation, with the economy regaining only slowly, the reserve funds depleted and continuing pressure on costs, particularly with increasing school enrollments and rising Medicaid costs. Additional economies must be sought in state government. In addition, I believe the Commonwealth will have to address the issue of adequacy of revenue at the state level. Otherwise constituents can expect to see increased pressure on the local real property tax.

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.

Increased attention to transit and other forms of ride-sharing can play a major role in cost-effective solutions to road congestion. Northern Virginia already has the basic elements of these approaches with Metro, VRE, local bus systems and HOV lanes. All of these can be expanded and made more convenient in order to attract more riders. Better utilization of current road systems can be achieved with traffic signal synchronization and key intersection improvements. HOT lanes and other toll roads should be considered in light of the tight funding situation. An increase in the state and regional gasoline tax is in order simply to keep up with inflation.

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?

Local governments have a number of tools to control and guide growth; however, Virginia is a property rights state so these tools do have limits. Forecasting and planning for future growth is essential to being prepared for increased demands for services. Certainly smart growth can offset some of the transportation requirements by locating new development at transportation nodes and by co-locating office, residential and retail uses.

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

Virginia has a number of environmental challenges. For this region the most pressing issue is air quality: our pollution is rated "Severe" and we must attain air quality standards or face the loss of federal transportation funding. Water quality is very important to Virginia with her many streams, rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. My legislation has required increased water quality monitoring and reporting and for passage of my bill, the Virginia Nontidal Wetlands Preservation Act, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation named me Legislator of the Year in 2000. Land conservation is growing in importance; the Commonwealth needs to designate state matching funds so that Federal funding for open space preservation can be received.

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

Northern Virginians can be proud of our response to the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The "first responders" from Arlington and other jurisdictions were heroic and professional. Since that time, a number of improvements have been made, especially in emergency communications. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain. The recent hurricane proved how vulnerable our power and water systems were to a natural disaster, much less a terrorist attack. This illustrates the fact that most improvements to our local fire, police and emergency medical units will help in many situations, not just those of homeland security.

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?

It is essential that the United States of America preserve the civil liberties that are our hallmark.

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 indeed important to our local economy, but they need to be paid a living wage and have access to health care. Hard-working families should have the opportunity to earn enough to pay for their basic necessities. Since that is unlikely to happen soon, state and local governments need to subsidize child care and transportation so that parents can work, and try to address the difficult issues of health care and housing. Partnerships with local non-profits have proven to be a good way of stretching tax dollars.

14. Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?

Yes. I have introduced legislation to provide such authority. The bill has been referred to the Joint Commission studying the restructuring of the tax system.

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

Higher! I introduced legislation in 2003 Session to increase the state tax to 60 cents, about the national average in the previous year. Now the national average is closer to 75 cents. Again that legislation was tabled for further consideration, In Virginia cities can tax cigarettes but most counties cannot. Recently a number of cities have increased the local tax.

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

At the very least, Virginia should tie the state gasoline tax to inflation. The tax was last increased in 1987 and would be at least 7 cents higher if that policy had been in effect. There is no local taxation of gasoline, but the Northern Virginia jurisdictions that belong to the regional commissions have been given permission to charge a 2% gasoline tax. An additional 2% for this region would bring in tens of millions of dollars for use in this area.

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

Clearly the tax code should be fair and progressive, with broad-based taxes and few exemptions. Proposals include extending the sales tax to more services, applying the sales tax to internet purchases, increasing the share of tax paid by corporations, and making the income tax more progressive. With more revenue, some taxes could be reduced or eliminated (e.g. the tax on food). I believe these are good proposals. In addition, attention must be given to the adequacy of revenue to meet the goals of the Commonwealth.

18. Should income taxes be collected and distributed locally?

The income tax is the major source of revenue for the state and should continue to be collected at the state level. However, I believe that some of that revenue should be shared with the localities. I introduced a bill that would have sent 10% of the income tax to the local jurisdictions according to a formula developed by the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.

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.

The state should live up to its funding obligations to the localities. This would do a great deal to reduce pressure on the real property tax. The state does enable localities to offer tax exemption and deferral programs for elderly and disabled property owners. I do not endorse the 5% cap on property tax increases.

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?

Although Northern Virginia does have more representation, it is still only 25-30% of the General Assembly. Alliances have to be forged with members from other areas who have similar interests.

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

The Dillon Rule should be relaxed to give localities more power over purely local matters.

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

Virginia law specifies that first trimester abortions may be performed in clinics; second trimester abortions must be performed in hospitals; rare third trimester abortions can be performed only with the agreement of three doctors that it is necessary for the life or health of the mother. I believe that abortions should be safe, legal and rare and are a medical and moral decision to be made by the woman without governmental interference. Recent steps to restrict abortions go in the wrong direction.

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?

The General Assembly must address this issue. The legislature's own study shows that public education is underfunded by $500 million per year and that is only to meet the state's minimal standards. Because these standards are required, localities must make up the difference. There is no question that additional funds are required.

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

The Standards of Learning tests are multiple choice tests that, in many cases, reduce education to memorized sound bites. They reward memorization and give little opportunity for a student to demonstrate critical thinking skills. They do serve a valuable purpose but should not be the sole measure of success.

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.

Virginia's colleges and universities have suffered serious reductions in funding. Although about half of the cuts have been made up with tuition increases, students are nevertheless experiencing larger classes and fewer courses or sections of courses, sometimes necessitating an extra semester of college. Faculty pay has slipped well below that of peer institutions and we are beginning to see an exodus of faculty to other schools. Furthermore, there are not enough places available to accommodate the increasing number of high school graduates. The General Assembly needs to determine its funding strategy for higher education and then stick to it.