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With Issues in Hand, Delegates Head To General Assembly

Nursing-home-provided taxes, aka the "granny tax," were on the forefront of the Greenspring Village luncheon, but the discussion slowly turned into a typical political talk over taxes. Guests of honor Virginia Sen. Jay O'Brien (R-39th) and Del Vivian Watts (D-39th) represented opposite ends of the tax issue.

The granny tax targets the bedridden seniors who are able to supplement funds for bedridden seniors who are on Medicaid and unable to pay. The proposed tax amounts to about $10 a day per person and is matched by federal funds. Not many spoke in favor of the tax.

"It's bad public policy to target taxes to a small portion of the population," said Dick Graham, of the Virginia Continuing Care Residents Association. "Most are on fixed income of some sort. It would be a terrible step backwards."

Greenspring officials were against it as well.

"We feel like it's an unfair tax," said Joe Harsel, Erickson director of community affairs. Erickson is the parent company of Greenspring Village.

Danny O'Brien, vice president of Erickson, had another spin.

"This is really ‘steal from the sick to pay for the poor,’" he said.

With the 60-day Virginia General Assembly convening next week, O'Brien and Watts hadn't heard of any of the participants sponsoring a bill with the granny tax on it, but they felt it may appear toward the end of the budget hearings.

"You can find a patron for anything. Often they'll just float it," O'Brien said.

One reason for discussing the tax with the Greenspring seniors was to highlight the issue. Both politicians urged the seniors to contact them if they heard of anyone supporting it.

"The whole point of this meeting was just to put up the red flag," O'Brien said.

Both Watts and O'Brien were vocal about another issue — the governor's proposed budget.

"The governor has tied his reforms to the budget," O'Brien said. "I know Vivian and I will disagree on that."

Watts did note a need for funds on all levels, mentioning that even though the federal government can run at a deficit, the commonwealth of Virginia can't.

"We have struggled for the last two years to deal with the state deficit. Obviously the General Assembly will debate these long and hard," Watts said.

ALTHOUGH Del. Dave Albo's (R-42nd) eyes are on Warner's budget proposal as well, he is also introducing a bill to revise the criminal code. Albo, a lawyer by trade, knows a sweeping bill involving the criminal code will take time.

"That will take the most time," he said.

Also on Albo's agenda is a bill that limits the salary of the school superintendent. The six-figure salary of the school superintendent isn't totally reflective of the whole package, which includes retirement and bonuses. Albo wants to restrict a superintendent's salary to five times the average salary of a Fairfax County teacher. He expects opposition.

"I imagine the school system's going to hate it," he said.

Another one of Albo's bills requires a DWI offender to spend a minimum of three days in jail. Other bills include a bill that requires local government approval for a baseball stadium, as well as revised education funding for urban areas.

Albo is not happy with Warner's tax revision plan.

"His whole package is a rip-off for Northern Virginia. We go from paying 44 percent of the state budget to paying 50 percent," Albo said.

MARK SICKLES (D-43rd) is a newcomer to the General Assembly, defeating Tom Bolvin in the 43rd District last November. Sickles is wasting no time, though, and has 10 bills to submit, highlighted by the revenue-sharing bill that would give Northern Virginia more money from the state. In Sickles’ bill, 1 percent a year would come from individual income taxes back to localities until it reached 5 percent. In two years, Sickles predicted approximately $210 million going back to Northern Virginia.

"I think something like this has a chance. I will work toward any other reasonable action like this," Sickles said.

Other bills he's submitting include an association bill and a bill addressing nursing homes in the case of a power outage, due to the events that took place during Hurricane Isabel last fall. Sickles is working with Del. Bob Marshall on a development bill, and he also sponsors a bill addressing the library funding formula. A former library board member, Sickles has examined the formula for some time now. Currently, the libraries receive 30 cents per capita for books until the population reaches 600,000, and then the amount drops to 10 cents per person. With more than a million people in the county, the money lost would be a significant amount of money, he said. Sickles is looking to drop the provision that reduces the figure from 30 cents to 10 cents.

"This is something I worked on when I was chairman of the library board. It's about a $100,000 item for the county," Sickles said.