Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) addressed the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Monday night on a variety of topics. But questions from the audience revealed what was uppermost in their minds — Northern Virginia's terrible, tangled traffic.
"I'd encourage you to look for a designated source of funding for transportation," said Kathleen Hill of Centre Ridge. "Without it, our problems will continue."
REESE NOTED that Gov. Mark Warner worked with him on other matters during the past session of the General Assembly, but said he was disappointed with Warner's performance when it came to alleviating this area's traffic woes.
"The governor has not supported bills that would have helped Northern Virginia transportation," he said. "I would have thought it would have been one of his priorities. But when it came to Northern Virginia's transportation problems, he just wasn't there."
Reese, of Oak Hill, began his presentation by discussing what turned out to be a 127-day legislative session — the longest one in Virginia's history. He also noted some of his accomplishments.
"I sponsored the budget-reform and inspector-general pieces," he said. "I introduced 30 bills and got 24 passed. That's an 80-percent success rate — not too bad for a third-year man. But it got eclipsed by the budget debacle."
Although he'd hoped to vote in favor of the state budget, Reese said he couldn't because it changed so dramatically after it left the House. "When the budget came back from the Senate, it was $1.6 billion," he explained. "It was too rich for my blood — $600 million more than I'd expected. Then they 'found' some money."
However, he said the legislature did achieve some positive things in the realm of Medicaid waivers, schools and public safety. And he doesn't expect as much of a budget battle in the next General Assembly session.
"I DON'T think the budget will pose a problem next year because the economy is getting stronger," said Reese. "We're anticipating a $1.4 billion increase [in revenue] due to growth. But according to my figures, I think it'll be closer to $2.3 billion."
He said he asked Warner to earmark any extra dollars above the $1.4 billion into transportation, but the governor chose not to. In the next session, he said, the legislators will continue working on budget reform, but will expand it into the area of long-term care.
"What Medicaid does to people [needing such care] is intolerable," said Reese. "If someone's mother or father needs long-term care in a nursing home, [Medicaid requires them] to reduce their savings to $2,000. That's just wrong — and at the wrong time, when people are in their 80s and have enough fears."
Therefore, he said, the General Assembly should encourage everyone to get long-term care insurance and make it tax-deductible to employers. He said it should be a "cafeteria plan," where those insured could pick and choose from a variety of options, and that it should be portable — "You can take it from employer to employer." And, said Reese, people should be able to pay for their parents' long-term care insurance and take the tax deduction, themselves.
He said this issue needs to be addressed at both state and federal levels because "with what Medicaid will have to provide [by the time people need it], it will be bankrupt." And he noted that Virginia's legislators plan to hold a work session to deal with this problem.
Russ Wanek of Centreville's Heritage Forest community asked how Northern Virginia could squeeze more tax dollars out of Richmond, and Reese replied that the car-tax reform program is the one benefit Northern Virginia gets.
"I WILL continue to understand other people's problems in other parts of the state so, at least, I can have an entre to sit down and talk to them about our problems," said Reese. "We represent the interests of Northern Virginia, and we fight and we lose. But the question is how do we build bridges with those in other parts of [Virginia]?"
Lamenting the traffic congestion here, Little Rocky Run's Al Francese asked Reese if he saw any signs that the General Assembly might revive the transportation tax-referendum for this area. "I supported it," said Reese. "But it died in the Senate. And I don't see any change in membership there that would change that circumstance, unfortunately."
"Transportation is the number-one issue for us up here, and it's going to gobble up a lot of money," he continued. "But there are those in the General Assembly who would like to privatize every new road — turn them over to private companies that would charge tolls. My belief is that transportation is a core responsibility of government, so I expect a magnificent battle."
Rocky Run's Gerry Spence asked, "Why can't all the Northern Virginia politicians be on the same page about things that would benefit Northern Virginia?"
"It's a beautiful dream, but the bad blood between the two parties is palpable," replied Reese. "When we start talking about transportation, there are two Northern Virginias. Those inside the Beltway don't want anymore roads, and those outside the Beltway do. Also, in schools and social matters, there are major differences."
Actually, he said, what's emerging is a "commonality of interests" between Northern Virginia and Chesterfield and Henrico counties, plus the area outside Virginia Beach. Spence then beseeched Reese to not lose the art of compromise.
"I love to hear that — especially because we almost lost it this time," said Reese. "I hope we're beginning to learn to compromise. I'm not one of those who says, 'I won't budge an inch.'"
Echoing Francese's sentiments, Bull Run Estates' Mark McConn asked if there's any chance that the push for a half-cent sales tax would get resurrected, any time. But Reese said it's not going to happen.
"Our message to Richmond was, 'We don't trust Richmond. When we send it our tax dollars, they disappear down a black hole.' The message Richmond heard was, 'Northern Virginia doesn't have a transportation problem. It didn't vote for the tax referendum for transportation.'"
WFCCA Land-Use member Chris Terpak-Malm said her home is "spitting distance from Westfield High," but there's no way to reach it on foot. And with all the traffic here, she spends 20 minutes driving the 3/4 of a mile to the school on a congested road.
"I'LL CONTINUE to work to get more money for transportation and will fight for it," said Reese. "But right now, there's nothing [in the transportation budget] to fight over." Joked WFCCA President Ted Troscianecki: "I know what, Chris. You and I will buy the road, build the road and charge people a toll."