With taxes, transportation and traffic the hot topics of the evening, approximately 60 Springfield residents had the chance to listen to candidates running for the House of Delegates and representatives for the gubernatorial candidates at the Sept. 20 Springfield Civic Association meeting.
Del. Vivian Watts (D-39) took the opportunity to recount the successes of her years in office and plans for continued fiscal accountability.
"Not only has there been a budget surplus in Virginia, we have been named as one of the two best managed states. But now comes the real challenge," Watts said. If re-elected to the House of Delegates, she told residents she wants to focus on tax reform to increase the percentage of tax dollars that are returned to Northern Virginia and use extra money to stabilize tax increases and tackle transportation concerns.
"Starting two and a half years ago, money on the transit and construction budgets has been drained into the statewide maintenance projects," she said. If the state government were spending the same percentage of funding on transportation now as when she left her position as secretary of transportation in 1990, "we'd have $3.5 billion worth of improvements in place," said Watts. "That's the kind of stewardship this business of government should be held do."
Increasing the burden on homeowners with five consecutive years of double-digit assessment hikes makes it difficult for some residents to stay in their homes, a problem that may be eased with the adoption of a 20 percent easement in property taxes for people who live in homes they personally own, Watts suggested.
When asked which method she'd support to help fix Northern Virginia's transportation problems, she said, "all of the above. We're so far behind. [Installing] toll roads would be a short-term fix and short sighted. Over half the transportation budget goes to projects that are already built."
If the use of mass transit, such as Metro expansions, were to be implemented, "we need to make sure our trains have enough cars on them to carry more passengers," Watts said. "We need to make sure the capacity is there to handle those who want to use it."
Michael Meunier, the Republican candidate for the 39th District, advocated increasing the amount of funding coming into Fairfax County for education to 65 cents per dollar, up from the current 60 cents per dollar, in order to attract and retain better teachers.
"That would lead to an increase of $51 million for Fairfax County," he said. "Mrs. Watts says we need more money, but I think we need to find better ways to spend what we have."
On the topic of transportation, Meunier said the "money in the trust fund for transportation has been raided," with the funding being used for projects that do not help ease traffic constraints.
"Many of the bottlenecks are caused by accidents," he said. "I would support having an emergency team ready and situated near major roadways to clear accidents faster and prevent the backups," Meunier said.
WHEN ASKED if he'd support allowing hybrid car drivers to use HOV lanes, Meunier said he was "all for" using technology to decrease dependency on oil, " but we need to be fair on all parts. I haven't studied the issue but I don't see why you should have favor over someone else because of the car you drive."
Resident Charlie Butler asked Meunier how he would go about improving education in Fairfax County without raising taxes.
"Where I come from, teachers would get more pay for more training," said Meunier, an immigrant from Egypt. "Some countries are ahead of our students in teaching math and science. The world is learning from us and that's the problem. We need to learn how to use our technology better. Testing our students is good but I don't agree with how the SOLs are implemented," he said, referring to Virginia's Standards of Learning exams, given several times during the school year.
Representing Richard Herron, the Independent Green Party candidate for the 39th District, Gail Parker, herself a candidate for the same position in the 44th District, used the opportunity to promote the expansion of rail transportation as a solution to traffic problems.
"Seven miles of rail could be put in and ready to use in two years and cost $80 million," Parker said. "To install rail from Springfield to the northern part of Fort Belvoir is about five miles, so it would cost a little less. There are several ways it could be paid for, maybe out of the county's budget surplus."
Using money allocated for transit improvements to repair or build new roads won't solve any problems, she said. "We don't need more roads. We need rail."
ON BEHALF of Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for governor, Fairfax County School Board member Brad Center (Lee) told the residents "if it weren't for the Warner-Kaine administration, Fairfax County would be in worse shape than it is. Seventy-five percent of the school budget is paid for by personal property taxes, and the more we get from the state the less we have to pay locally. The Kaine administration would work hard to get us fiscally solvent," Center said.
On the subject of transportation, Center said Kaine "wants local control over transportation. The [Republican Jerry] Kilgore campaign said they want to put I-66 through Arlington, but I'm sure the people who live there want nothing to do with that. It doesn't make sense," he said.
The Kaine administration would continue to work for federal waivers from the No Child Left Behind legislation. This would allow for certain subgroups within schools to be addressed independently of the entire school, resulting in more accurate test results overall, Center said.
No representative for Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor, attended the meeting.
Speaking on behalf of Independent gubernatorial candidate Russ Potts, Carey Campbell, the state chairman of the Independent Green Party of Virginia, outlined the party's primary goals as "more candidates, less apathy; more transportation, less traffic and having a government that's fiscally conservative and socially responsible."
"We are calling for light rail around the Beltway and high-speed trains for longer distances, which would provide more relief with a $237 billion transportation budget," he said.
When asked what rail would look like alongside or on the Beltway, Campbell said that it would follow the current roadway and would help communities like Annandale by promoting walkable communities and local businesses which could establish locations at station sites.
One audience member asked: "if it's such a great idea, why don't we have it yet?"
"We need more local candidates to work for it," said Campbell. "That's why we put Russ Potts on the ballot."