The Arlington County Board unveiled to the public its legislative package for the 2006 General Assembly session during its meeting last weekend. Board members are urging legislators in Richmond to support the county’s new affordable housing plan, preserve the rights of immigrants and increase the minimum wage. They are also seeking greater funding for transportation, psychiatric beds in hospitals and to retain research facilities affected by the BRAC process.
Board members held a work session with Arlington’s legislative delegation on Nov. 29 to expound on its priorities. The 2006 session begins Jan. 11 and lasts for two months. This year is a “long session,” in which lawmakers must adopt a two-year state budget.
Some of the board’s top priorities include:
The board is asking the General Assembly to codify its new affordable housing compromise, which was forged with developers and community activists in October after months of contentious negotiations.
The plan requires developers to provide affordable units, or contribute money to a housing fund, whenever the county board grants projects additional density beyond what is permitted by-right. The amount of money, or units, supplied by developers would be according to a sliding scale based on the project’s size.
Board members are also seeking tax incentives for the preservation of affordable housing and the ability for the county to purchase land to strengthen the inexpensive housing stock. Additionally, the county would like a law that requires developers to notify localities of condo conversions in advance.
HOMEOWNERS TAX RELIEF
Last year Del. Bob Brink shepherded a constitutional amendment on home-owner’s tax relief through the House of Delegates, but a similar amendment was killed in the state Senate. The act would have exempted up to $100,000 of the value of residents’ homes from taxation. During the gubernatorial campaign, Timothy Kaine proposed a similar measure that would make the first 20 percent of the value of one’s home free from taxation.
The county is hoping this year the General Assembly will grant localities the authority to enact a homestead exemption. The average residential real estate assessment is projected to grow by more than 20 percent, the sixth straight year with a double digit increase. The state mandates a single tax rate for commercial and residential properties, restricting the amount of tax relief the county can provide to homeowners.
“This is a very important issue in Arlington because no matter how much we lower the rate, people will still be paying more,” board member Paul Ferguson said.
The board opposes the restrictions on county services and programs for immigrants that some members of the General Assembly may try to pass this session. Republican delegates announced in November that they would introduce an array of bills to curtail the number of government resources available to illegal immigrants.
One bill would forbid publicly funded day-labor work centers, like the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, unless they require proof of legal residency.
Republican lawmakers also intend to re-introduce legislation that would bar illegal immigrants from attending state universities and colleges, or at least require them to pay out-of-state tuition.
Without naming them specifically, Board member Walter Tejada denounced these proposed bills and called them “misguided and misinformed.”
“We can expect an antagonistic and negative environment in the General Assembly this year,” Tejada said during the board meeting last Saturday. “We will do our best to bring the facts forward and show there are a lot of benefits of having a big immigrant community in Virginia.”
Del. Al Eisenberg (D-47) and Vincent Callahan Jr. (R-34) are set to co-sponsor a bill that would increase Virginia’s minimum wage. It has remained unchanged, at $5.15 an hour, since 1997. Eisenberg’s bill would increase the minimum wage by $1 each of the next three years.
The board voted unanimously to support the proposal.
“Minimum wage is not a livable wage,” said Eisenberg, during an interview in October. “The value of that wage has eroded thanks to inflation and our poorest workers are not getting the full benefit. How many CEOs have been without a raise in eight years?”
Board members are asking the General Assembly to provide a “stable, reliable and permanent source of funding” for all modes of transportation, and a “dedicated source” of funding for Metro. The board also would like legislators to fully fund the state’s statutory 95 percent share of transit operating and capitol costs, with approximately $200 million in additional funds.
In the wake of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s decisions this past August, the county is seeking state money to retain research agencies in Arlington and to help companies move to vacated space.
Gov. Mark Warner has made a verbal commitment to supply $10 million to transfer the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and the Office of Naval Research within Arlington, if necessary. The governor’s Northern Virginia BRAC Working Group, which included County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, recently recommended the state provide funds for a job training center in Crystal City and incentives, such as tax credits, to entice small businesses to move into buildings hit by the BRAC process.
“It is critically important for Arlington to have help from both the state and federal government,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31), after the November legislative work session. “There will be a very significant impact from losing so many jobs and we will need assistance.”
Board members are petitioning the General Assembly for a pay raise this legislative session. Arlington is one of two jurisdictions in the state that must specifically ask the General Assembly for a raise and the only one with a cap on how much board members may earn.
“The board is asking to be treated just like other jurisdictions that do not have to ask the General Assembly for this authority,” Vice Chair Chris Zimmerman said.
The chairman of the board, currently Fisette, earns $32,474.02 a year and the other four members make $29,521.83. The board members are seeking an annual salary "in the mid-40s," Fisette said.
Though salaries are adjusted annually on a cost-of-living formula, with an increase of approximately $1,000 last year, the board’s last official pay hike was in 1997.
Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors including the chairman receive $59,000 a year. In Loudoun County the chairman of the Board of Supervisors makes $40,000, the other supervisors $22,400.
Another priority for the board is to secure increased funds in Northern Virginia for the purchase of additional psychiatric hospital beds. The board would also like the state to raise the daily rate for inpatient beds, so that hospitals have a greater incentive to take in more psychiatric patients, and increase funding for the discharge of patients into community-based services.
— Increase funding for the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund to aid the Chesapeake Bay
— Permit benefit coverage for domestic partners and dependents by public employers as currently permitted for private employers
— Oppose a second resolution for a constitutional amendment to limit the meaning of marriage
— Extend state hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation
— Increase state funding for the Public Defender’s Office, district court employees and probation officers