Del. Richard Black (R-32) has returned from Richmond with boasting rights.
Last year, the Northern Virginia delegation failed to persuade colleagues to boost transportation funding, but this year the General Assembly passed $848 million in additional road and rail money to alleviate congested highways. “Transportation was an enormous victory for us this year,” he said Friday.
BLACK SAID HE SERVED on the speaker’s transportation task force and pushed for what resulted in the largest increase in transportation spending in two decades.
He said the increase was possible, because the commonwealth had the largest surplus in the state's history or $1.2 billion. The General Assembly raised $1.5 billion in taxes last session, only to generate the enormous surplus.
“We were being told the sky was falling if we didn’t raise taxes,” Black recalled. “It was really kind of a fraud, the whole thing.”
In addition to the new transportation money, the Legislature pumped an extra $42.5 million into public schools. Loudoun County gets a $12.5 million increase, and plans on 3,600 more students next year. The district will receive $112.9 million in state aid to education compared to this fiscal year’s $100.4 million, said Memory Porter, the county’s legislative liaison.
“Keep in mind Northern Virginia, because we are affluent, we get a smaller percentage than other places like Richmond,” Black said. “Public schools are principally funded locally. A lot of people don’t understand that.”
He touted the county’s quality of education. “We are spending $15,000 per student per year on education in the county. That includes debt service, capital construction and so forth. We have roughly a 99 percent retention rate among our teachers,” he said.
The retention rate actually is 92 percent, according to Loudoun administrators.
Del. Thomas Rust (R-86) cited another accomplishment. Rust and Black succeeded in advancing legislation that would have repealed the car tax reimbursement program, and the state would have dedicated 17.5 percent of the individual income tax collections to localities. The bill also would have required an amendment to the state Constitution, which currently allows taxation of personal property, including motor vehicles.
“While we both knew it would have been an upward battle, we made progress in that the leadership of the House said it was the right thing to do,” Rust said.
The session was too short to build the support needed for passage, though. “It has been rolled over into an ongoing study. We should be able to effectuate that in a couple of years.”
BLACK POINTED TO another success. “One of the most far-reaching things we did this time was pass a resolution calling for a marriage amendment to the commonwealth’s constitution prohibiting any marriage that is not between a man and a woman and prohibiting civil unions and domestic partnerships,” he said. “I’ve worked on this for several years … molding and shaping it.”
Virginia became the 17th state to pass a marriage amendment, but it still needs the approval of the 2007 Legislature and voter approval via a referendum. “I believe the enormous majority we had in the House and the Senate bode well for passage in the next session,” he said.
Another plus was the passage of Black’s bill giving Supervisors authority to return budget surplus money to taxpayers if they want to make that move. His son-in-law, Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland), had recommended the legislation.
Black also welcomed passage of a measure that makes it more difficult for sexual predators to make bail. “It provides a presumption against the predator with an out-of-state conviction,” he said.
He applauded a bill that brought an end to the cameras that caught motorists running red lights. “It was becoming a big money raiser. They would shorten the time of the light and catch them,” he said. “I think the predominant feeling is just a nervousness about government electronic surveillance.”
SOME BILLS, of course, failed.
The Northern Virginia delegation failed to pass Black’s constitutional amendment that would have prohibited raids on the Transportation Trust Fund. The House approved the bill, but it failed to clear the Senate.
The House also approved his bill to prohibit gays and other unmarried couples from adopting children, but the measure failed in the Senate. “They just did a voice vote so none of them would have to go on record so the voters would know where they really stood.
“If somebody wants to know where I stand on something, all they have to do is ask,” Black said. “And sometimes they don’t have to ask.”
Rust said he did not support Black’s bill on prohibiting unmarried partners from adopting children. “That is one of the factors, the lifestyle, that is already taken into account during adoption. I didn’t think it was necessary.”
The Republican lawmakers disagreed on some issues. “But that’s probably true of all of the House of Delegates,” Rust said.
Black failed to garner full legislative support on his bill that would have provided anesthesia for any fetus 20 weeks or older scheduled for abortion.
DEL. KEN PLUM (D-36) said that bill was an example of Black’s ineffectiveness. “He provides substantial delay in the legislative process, keeping us from dealing with important issues such as transportation and education by his insistence on focusing on social issues,” Plum said. “He seems, quite frankly, to overdo it.”
“The controversy was the first sentence of the bill: ‘Life begins at conception,’” Plum said. “While he might have been well-intentioned, it was to get the Legislature to say life begins at conception. … This kind of thing ties up the Legislature.”
Plum also cited Black’s proposal to create an “I support traditional marriage” license plate. “You could be married half a dozen times and be beating your wife and still have this license plate,” Plum said. “To add insult … after the House approved it, he withdrew it in the Senate.”
Plum, a former Democratic state committee chairman, also criticized Black’s preoccupation with abortion. “The Supreme Court has given pretty clear guidelines on it, but he continues to look for ways around Roe v. Wade,” Plum said.
Black is a member of the House Education, Transportation, Courts of Justice and the Privileges and Elections Committees.