Taxes will be the most controversial issue in the General Assembly session that began Wednesday, says Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) of Centreville.
"The difference is between the governor's plan and what they're looking at doing in the House," he said. "When it's a Republican legislature, a tax hike is hard to take. I think every single Republican and maybe a few Democrats will vote against the governor's tax hike."
"In Northern Virginia, it hammers us — with no benefits," continued Cuccinelli. "He didn't put in proposals to adjust the funding formulas for education and transportation. We have about 14 percent of the state population in Fairfax County, and we pay over 29 percent of the top bracket of income tax. And the higher you drive the brackets and the rates, the worse that disproportion becomes."
Starting his second term as senator, Cuccinelli has his agenda ready. One of his bills would get HOT (High-Occupancy Travel) lanes included in a study for I-66 outside the Beltway because that would be the first step toward implementing HOT lanes on I-66.
"HOT lanes are a great way for us to expand our transportation and mass-transit networks without new taxes," he explained. "The people who use them would pay for them."
Another bill would keep Smart Tag information private, absent a court order or a hot pursuit by the police. He's also putting in some bills regarding Fairfax County's voting machines.
"The performance of Nov. 4 was sorely disappointing," said Cuccinelli. "People need to have high confidence in the equipment and procedures used in voting because it's the foundation of the Democratic process." His bills would:
* Require a contemporaneous, hard-copy backup for electronic voting machines, printed as the votes are cast; and
* Make explicit the requirement that voting machines must stay in public view during the course of the voting day.
On Nov. 4, he said, "Machines taken out of service were driven around in people's cars. They should have been kept with the other machines so there was a more transparent chain of possession." Cuccinelli said there'll also be discussion of a voter-verified paper ballot to allow the voter to see how the machine recorded the vote.
He plans resolutions honoring Westfield High as state football champion and an Optimist Club shooting team that also won a championship. And he'll offer a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment for the protection of marriage, "guaranteeing that marriage is between one man and one woman."
Cuccinelli said it's needed because "there's a rising threat of the importation of gay marriage in Virginia. In light of the Supreme Court ruling this summer and the 'Full Faith and Credit' clause of the U.S. Constitution requiring a state to give full credit to the laws of other states, a federal judge could force us to recognize that marriage."
If his bill became law, he said, gays' "sex-based relationships wouldn't be forced on the rest of society as if those relationships were normal. It's time that somebody started standing up for families. The militant homosexual agenda generally threatens the stability of our families and our society. I want a resolution to say we want to keep things the way they are in Virginia."
Cuccinelli will also bring back some of his bills from last year:
* Applying health regulations to abortion clinics. "A woman died last year in an Alexandria health clinic," he said. "I'm no fan of abortion, but it's a health and safety issue for the mother."
* A fetal-pain bill, requiring the anesthetization of a fetus before it's aborted. Said Cuccinelli: "If we're going to do this, let's at least do it humanely."
Another bill would allow evidence to be presented in court when someone applies to get back a concealed-weapons permit. And another deals with background checks for gun purchases. "We do this instantly at the state level now, so there's no point in doing it a second time, locally," he said.
Regarding education, Cuccinelli proposes abolishing the rule preventing Virginia schools from starting before Labor Day. It would allow local school boards to decide this issue for themselves. And, he said, "With the growing importance of end-of-year testing, the opportunity to move up those schedules makes sense."
He also plans a bill barring geographic-based discrimination in admission to state universities. Then, Northern Virginia students would be treated by Virginia colleges the same as students from around the state.
Cuccinelli said the toughest thing will be facing "the combination of Gov. Warner's tax-increase proposal in a Senate that seems generally somewhat disposed to increasing taxes." However, he and others have created a Web site, www.notaxhike.net, where people may receive updates about this debate, background information and the issue's context in history. It may also be used to lobby Warner, to defeat the tax hike.
In addition, Cuccinelli is heading the new, Senate Taxpayer-Protection Caucus. "We will work together as a group to determine what actions we can take to limit taxes in Virginia," he said. "Since I fought [Northern Virginia's] tax referendum, I'm in my niche, here."
He said this caucus will be rare because everyone will agree on the bottom line. It's still forming, but he expects the Senate and House caucuses to have about 25 people total. Chairing the House caucus is Scott Lingenfelter.
As the new legislative session begins, Cuccinelli said his challenge is that he doesn't necessarily engage in "support-swapping on issues of principle that others are inclined to do."
He said 99.9 percent of the people who come to Richmond and lobby "want you to spend more money. There are very few from the outside who don't want this. But when you ask them for lower-priority items we can get rid of to fund [their item], none of them have an answer."
So what gives him the most satisfaction as a senator? Said Cuccinelli: "Looking back, after the session or a meeting or floor vote, and making sure I'm comfortable — that I gave my best effort and did what I said I'd do when I got here."
He may be reached at 804-698-7537, firstname.lastname@example.org. or at General Assembly Building, 910 Capitol St., Room 313, P.O. Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218.