Robert J. Test, State Delegate, District 45

Robert J. Test, State Delegate, District 45

Office: 45th District, House of Delegates

Party: Republican

Previous office: not applicable

Occupation: Attorney

Employment: Self employed, private practice since 1977


BA, History, George Mason University, 1970

Graduate Studies, History, Geo. Mason, 1972

JD, George Mason University Law School, 1977

Community ties:

Born and raised in Fairfax County, Alexandria resident since 1969.

Member, Saint Mary’s Church, Alexandria,; Alexandria Businessmen’s Club;

Active as coach, youth sports

Endorsements: None as yet

1.  What is your top public-service accomplishment?

I served as Board member (1981-1986) and Chairman (1985-86) of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  During that time we transformed the Authority from an agency on the verge of bankruptcy to one that was a national leader in innovative methods of operation and finance.  We paid off mortgages on several properties and refused to accept new federal (HUD) financing that would have tied up the properties for an additional 40 years.  Instead, we placed the properties in a public/private joint venture, the best example being the redevelopment of Cameron Valley.  Built as government housing in the 1940’s, Cameron Valley was at the end of its useful life in 1982.  The Authority paid off the HUD mortgage and in a joint venture with private developers converted the site into an award winning mixed use of low and moderate income housing, town houses, single family homes, apartments and a commercial and retail center.  The redevelopment put the property back on the City tax rolls (ARHA properties are exempt from real estate taxes, although a nominal payment is made for City services), adding millions in value to the City tax base.

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.

Top five problems are;

A.  Funding for Education

B.  Traffic Congestion

C.  Affordable Housing

D.  Jobs

E.  Air Quality/Pollution

A.  Education Funding

I would work to create a bi-partisan effort in Northern Virginia to make changes to the funding formula that takes so much of our tax dollars with so little in return.  We will only be successful in this effort if we work not only with members of both parties in Northern Virginia, but by forming alliances with districts that have similar problems, Tidewater and Richmond for example.

B.  Traffic Congestion

The Northern Virginia area needs to work in concert to solve traffic problems in a region wide effort.  To do so will require that all jurisdictions work toward a comprehensive regional plan and abandon the notion of independent solutions that often produces contrary results.

C.  Affordable Housing

With so much of the tax burden being placed on the property owners as a result of the imbalance created by the education funding formula, home ownership is becoming the opportunity of the wealthy in Northern Virginia, and those of low and moderate income have little or no chance to own a home.  Those seniors on fixed incomes are forced to sell as they can no longer afford to keep up with the rising payments.  If the demand placed on real property taxes as the major source of local revenue is reduced, more of a homeowner’s dollars can be used to pay a mortgage and make home ownership more realistic for many.

D.  Jobs

Northern Virginia has relied almost exclusively on technology and private sector employment, with service jobs (hotel, restaurant) following; there is no middle ground.  School programs need to focus on the reality of the local job market and work to train students for positions in the new economy.

E.  Air Quality/Pollution

It is ironic that the tax referendum that was defeated last fall was authorized as a means of improving air quality in Northern Virginia.  Unless the region focuses on regional solutions, the local air quality will continue to deteriorate.

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

Any time you are asked to work as a part of a large group that has different (and often radically different) views on a variety of important subjects, it is necessary to be able to lead when you can, hopefully convincing others of the mutual benefit of your position.  Qualities needed: an ability to understand the issue or problem, and determine the best available solution; the ability to work with people of different backgrounds and interests to come to a consensus; knowing when to press an issue and when to compromise.  Characteristics needed: a good sense of humor, a thick skin, the ability to listen and  the ability to lead.

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

My opponent has served in the House of Delegates since 1982.  Since that time state school funding to the 45th District has declined at a steady rate, regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans controlled the Senate or House, or held the Governorship.  My opponent has had every opportunity to lead, serving on Appropriations and Education committees, but has failed to deliver for the District.  I will work to deliver a result, not serve to “gain experience.”  Experience only matters if it produces results.

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

I will not take part in the partisan bickering that detracts from the matters at hand.  The Northern Virginia Delegation needs to work together to get results, there is no other way.

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 a continuation of flat revenues, with no spending increase; in fact, depending on the tax code revisions and their implementation, it is likely that the present budget will carry forward thru the next election cycle, with no real changes until 2006.  To the extent possible, I would like to see adjustments in the education funding formula to help Northern Virginians avoid increasing 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 transportation solutions, expansion of rail service, and any other possible approaches.

Depending on available revenues, I would first seek to get the funds returned to Northern Virginia that were diverted last year to balance the budget.  I will advocate a regional approach to transportation issues, keeping in mind that Arlington and Alexandria bear the brunt of the commuter issues, while the focus of the outlying counties is more road and highway oriented.  I am an advocate of alternate commuter modes of transport- we can’t address congestion without getting cars off of the road.  Allowing thru traffic to move with less impediments is desirable, but because of the way growth has developed in the outlying counties, not always possible.  Bus service, while a benefit, falls in the same gridlock as vehicular traffic, and is subject to the same problems.  METRO service and rail need to be expanded as can be afforded (new and longer METRO cars for example), but ultimately, budget constraints will prevent anything but the most basic improvements.

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?

I believe that local governments have the legal (zoning and planning) tools they need to guide growth.  The answer lies in the method of growth, how it is done, how it is phased in, and how the localities collect the revenues they need to fund the infrastructure to support the added residents.  Charging the developers a fee for new construction artificially raises the cost of the housing delivered; but at the same time, it places on the users (the new home owners) some of the costs associated with the development.  Each locality needs to do its own coast and needs assessment and determine how much of the cost can reasonably be charged to the individual new home owner as a user fee, and how much the locality can fund on its own, using the new tax revenue as a long term source of income.  For example, some localities may wish to use a bond referendum to pay for new schools, offsetting the cost with the annual tax revenues generated by the developments.  Smart growth works in areas (like Ballston in Arlington) where residential (condominium) units, are incorporated into a METRO centered office and retail environment.  The same can be said of development in outlying areas preventing urban sprawl, provided the local authorities are willing to tackle the problems head-on.

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

My top environmental  issues are:  continuing to modernize plants that produce significant sulfur and carbon emissions; continuing efforts to support any program that has a direct benefit of removing cars from the road, ie. METRO, high speed rail, commuter services, bus, etc.  I believe that if we do one thing about water quality, it must be the Chesapeake Bay, it deserves or full time and attention.

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

Until the day comes when we can say there is no longer a threat from terrorism, we must devote the resources necessary to protect our citizens.  Fortunately, homeland security and public safety are not exclusive operations, and the benefits for local public safety officials, for example in shared technology, improved communications, etc., will expand the available resources for local officials.

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 11th?

There is always a concern that too much power given to one autonomous authority can be abused.  It is imperative that Homeland Security not abuse the authority given under the Patriot Act, or a well intentioned tool will be curtailed, leading the intelligence failures that in some ways led to 9/11.

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 income workers important to the local economy?  What do you propose to address the needs of families?

Low income (service workers) are vital to the local economy, and the wages paid by employers are testimony to the need.  However, the costs of housing locally, let alone transportation and health care, force many to live well outside the area.  This is where a quick and flexible transportation system would benefit, as well as development that centered not only on suburban developments, but modestly priced rental housing.

14.  Should counties have the taxing authority of cities?


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

I would like to see the state rate at .45 to .55 per pack.  Local rates subject to local determination.

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

Current tax rates (17.5), including the 2% METRO tax should not be altered without showing of significant need.

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

I would simplify the code, looking hard at the number of sales tax exemptions, for example.  I would make the tax rate progressive, depending on income, as with the federal tax rates.  I would look at the seniors exemptions, possibly phasing them out for those seniors whose AGI exceeds a minimum of $75,000.

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

I think collecting state income taxes in Richmond makes the most sense, and their subsequent distribution to the localities should be on a direct ration of funds collected.

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

A more balanced distribution to Northern Virginia of education funds, rather than the amounts provided under the present formula, would take the pressure off of real property taxes.  There is nothing that can be done to slow the appreciation of real property, but the taxes can be modified.  No, I would not endorse a cap on 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.  Why?  What will you do to increase the influence of Northern Virginia in Richmond.

While 25% of the elected body is not “critical mass” when coupled with legislators from other parts of the state with similar interests, Newport News, Hampton Roads, etc., it possible that we will be able to achieve some measure of success for the residents of Northern Virginia. This can only be done if the Democrats and Republicans put aside their partisan bickering and work together to solve some regional problems, not at the expense of the rest of the state, but in concert with it.

21.  Do you favor repeal of the Dillon Rule?

I do not favor repeal of the Dillon Rule.  The Commonwealth was organized with the idea that its legislature would govern the state with the will of the people, not pass out the authority to local bodies in contravention of the State Constitution and the ideas of the founding fathers.  Jamie Madison would roll over in his grave.

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

I do not support changes to the State's abortion laws.  I believe that too much time is spent on issues that have been decided by the Supreme Court.

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

There are certain public buildings where the carrying of concealed weapons by licensed individuals may not be appropriate, courthouse, etc. and I would support some reasonable limits.

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?

I believe that the Northern Virginia region in particular is most affected by the lack of funding, which, in turn, drives up real property taxes to compensate for the shortfall.  When the tax rate in Augusta is .66 and locally its $1.00 or more, then you can see the discrepancy.  To address the issue I would work to build a consensus with the local delegation and the areas of the state in a similar situation to adjust the funding formula to more fairly compensate Northern Virginia.

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

The SOL are designed to test the minimum requirements for promotion/graduation.  Although I taught for a number of years, I would leave the specifics of the test to the professionals, but some minimum standard must be achieved by our students.

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

I believe that such a ban would be appropriate if enacted by the Legislature and implemented locally.  See 24 above.

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.

I'm not sure that I see a "crisis" in higher education.  Virginia consistently ranks among the nation's best in terms of quality colleges and universities.  My third child graduated from Mary Washington this past spring, my oldest from UVA in 1997, so I am familiar with Virginia's higher education alternatives.  Anyone who has paid for a four year education at another institution, as we did for our daughter at the University of Southern Cal, knows just how expensive the cost of college truly can be.  Our tuition in Virginia is very reasonable compared with other states, and a bargain when compared with other colleges and universities, public and private, nationwide.  I would like to see out of state tuitions raised a bit, and we need to avoid the emergency tuition increases that shocked so many families who had planned and budgeted for college costs.