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Hearings Set for Legislative Agenda

Board members seek citizen input on priorities for General Assembly. Hearing scheduled for Nov. 15.

With election day approaching, Arlingtonians are unsure who will represent them in the next General Assembly session. But it’s time to think about what those representatives will advocate.

County staff released the first draft of the county’s 2004 legislative priorities at last Saturday’s county board meeting. Board members will hear public comment Saturday, Nov. 15. In his memo to the board, County Manager Ron Carlee stressed that the legislative package is still in draft stage and will likely change before adoption next month.

Most of the priorities as they stand now look familiar from the last several years. The 2004 legislative session is again expected to focus primarily on tax reform and the Commonwealth’s budget shortfalls. Five legislative priorities deal with tax reform: protecting local taxing authority, generating extra revenue for education, equalizing county and city taxing authority, opposing caps on property tax and allowing localities to develop tax relief measures.

Other priorities include extending “Live Where You Work” benefits and creating a Public Defender’s Office for Arlington.

“We always look forward to working with the county on advancing its legislative package,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31), who is seeking reelection in a race against Republican challenger Kamal Nawash. “We talk about what the chances are for the piece of legislation and who in the delegation should introduce it.”

SOME PRIORITIES, such as giving localities the right to raise the cigarette tax, are all but certain to fail in the Republican-controlled legislature located in the heart of tobacco country, county staff said.

But lawmakers and county staffers have said pushing the issue now may pay off in the future. The county has an interest in pushing this agenda “in perpetuity,” said Sally Bakko, whose position as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs makes her the county’s chief lobbyist to the General Assembly.

Which is not to say there’s no hope for success in 2004. “Education funding may go somewhere this next legislative session,” said board member Barbara Favola.

County board priorities typically adopt language from school board priorities. The current draft supports in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants. That issue proved controversial last year.

By law, board members must hold public hearings for most actions. But directing a legislative agenda isn’t one of them. Seeking public comment is a matter of custom in Arlington and helps board members assess what’s important to their constituents.