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Devolites, Davis Host Town Meetings

Budgets, both state and federal, draw questions.

Although the morning was early and sculptures made of chocolate were being displayed next door, those factors didn’t deter Springfield resident Scott Logan from attending state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites’ (R-34th) town hall meeting at Fairfax City Hall last Saturday. A teacher at a Reston school, Logan was concerned that the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act would impact the hiring and retaining of teacher aides in several years.

"We’re going to lose a lot our aides," said Logan, explaining that Title I and No Child Left Behind regulations would prohibit aides without a college degree or 45 hours of college credit. "There’s a lot of good people that have a lot of corporate knowledge."

A handful of hardy citizens attended Devolites’ town hall meeting on Feb. 7, to listen to Devolites’ views on the state budget, as well as address their concerns on transportation and taxes. A larger crowd would attend Rep. Tom Davis’ (R-11th) town hall meeting later that morning.

Both Devolites and Davis would also conduct a meeting at Vienna Town Hall later that morning.

Devolites began the town hall meeting introducing some legislation she had sponsored in her freshman year in the Virginia Senate. She said among the 25 bills she has sponsored, 14 of them have passed through the Senate, and she projected that two of the bills would pass.

The legislation she has sponsored has included expanding anti-spam legislation to include activity over broadband and make it a criminal offense to create viruses; removing a 2005 sunset on the red-light camera program for localities; adding online public auctions and the U.S General Services Administration as procurement services available to public bodies; and allowing a change in Fairfax City’s charter to give more flexibility to set salaries for the mayor and City Council.

On the tax reform plans proposed by Gov. Mark Warner (D) and Sen. John Chichester (R-28th ), Devolites argued that both plans didn’t return enough state funds to Northern Virginia. She didn't approve the additional income tax bracket proposed in Warner’s plan for incomes over $100,000.

Fairfax County’s median family income is $84,683.

For education, Devolites was disappointed that out of the $761 million earmarked in the proposal for education, only $55 million would go to Fairfax County. She also felt the earmarked $140 million to universities was too little.

Devolites did support a raise in the cigarette tax, with revenue going toward health care and Medicaid. She also added that she didn’t support using future federal funds to pay for current projects.

"In his plan, he’s transferring additional wealth from Northern Virginia to the state," said Devolites of Warner’s plan.

THE HURDLES facing both Warner’s and Chichester’s plans were in the House of Delegates, continued Devolites. With House speaker William J. Howell (R-28th) supporting only a gas tax hike to increase revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund, and with a projected shortage of 10,000 prison beds by 2010 as well as continuous budget cuts, Devolites said the General Assembly would have to consider what core services to cut.

"I’m going to wait and see what comes to the floor, and see if it’s in the best interests of my constituents," Devolites said.

Citizen comments to Devolites ranged from supporting a hike in the cigarette tax, keeping college tuition affordable, and General Assembly actions to help localities with cut-through traffic.

Devolites responded that the state needed to come up with more money to improve mass transit and interstate arteries, and she has heard that some localities are asking to raise the speeding fines on certain streets.

Michael Shumaker, a constituent from Fairfax, asked Devolites her opinion of creating a Confederate History Month for Virginia. Devolites responded that while she wanted to recognize the history of the Confederacy and slavery in Virginia, she disapproved of the language in the resolution supporting a Confederate History Month.

"The wording on that was pretty harsh," said Devolites, adding that she had also supported the arguments that the Black Caucus of the General Assembly used against the resolution.

Shumaker also asked Devolites about her position on a public monuments bill, which Devolites said passed the Senate unanimously.

"I think the House position on not increasing taxes is correct," said Shumaker of his attendance at the meeting.

While citizens in Vienna and Oakton would share similar concerns with their Fairfax City neighbors, Devolites added that the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and its implementation was an important issue for the Town of Vienna. The Town had asked her to see if the attorney general’s office could aid localities in lawsuits arising from the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. Devolites learned that local governments could provide a variance for citizens who lived within a 100-foot barrier of a Resource Protection Area (RPA).

She added that the board governing the act has begun a two-year process analyzing the act’s implementation.

"The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Board is now beginning the process to exclude IDAs [Intensely Developed Areas]," said Devolites after the meeting.

ABOUT 20 more citizens showed up at Davis’ town hall meeting, which started with a brief presentation on the federal budget and continued with a question-and-answer session. Though no theme dominated the meeting, Davis fielded questions from constituents ranging from government reform and spending, to foreign affairs, to transportation.

"I was particularly concerned with what's going on with the federal transportation bill," said Richard Diedrich, a Fairfax resident and chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, commenting on his attending at the town hall meeting. "I'm concerned that we are constantly being shortchanged on the transportation side."

The issues that Davis had discussed included the following:

* On Social Security, Davis said he believed that the government would one day means-test citizens for prescription drug benefits. He didn't support means-testing Social Security, although he thought the age that one could receive benefits would be raised. Davis also opposed raising FICA taxes.

* On transportation, Davis said he supports a national gas tax. He was also concerned that 60 percent of Virginia's state highway funds are being used for maintenance, with the state depending on federal funding to help make up the difference.

* On postal reform, among the priorities of the Government Reform Committee, which Davis chairs, is postal reform. The committee wants to look at postal reform because over half of the post offices nationwide are losing revenue, which had been generated by stamp usage. Postal reform could include giving the Postal Service flexibility of where to close offices and allowing it to compete in areas that make it more competitive with FedEx and UPS, two shipping companies.

"We want to make sure the rate payers are fairly charged," Davis said.

* On Iraq, responding to a question about executive authority, Davis said he supported President George W. Bush's (R) authority to commence war with Iraq. Although Davis said the conventional warfare campaign went successfully, the difficulty now lies in reconstructing the nation.

"The last thing you want to do is abandon the country. Iraq needs to establish a constitution and government," said Davis. "This is an unwritten chapter, and Iraq is a tough country."

* On gun control, Davis responded that he did not support an immunity bill for gun manufacturers and dealers because he saw the issue of manufacturer responsibility as a legal issue vs. a gun control issue.

Davis added that he supported the Brady Bill and closing gun show loopholes.

"I think the tort system in this country is out of control," Davis said.

* On Bush's tax cuts, Davis didn't support making Bush's tax cuts permanent because he said he had wanted the administration to have a spending plan that didn't include a half-trillion-dollar deficit.