Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) may not have had as much to report to members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Tuesday afternoon as he would have liked.
“Until we have a budget, we can’t really talk about what we did and what we didn’t do,” he told his audience. He and state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis had been invited to give a report on this year’s General Assembly to the local NARFE chapter, but Devolites-Davis was unable to attend, and the General Assembly session that was supposed to have ended two months ago remains at an impasse with legislators unable to agree on a budget for the state.
Shannon characterized this session as the one in which transportation problems will be addressed. This is “the big issue” for the session, he said. By most experts’ accounts, he told the audience, transportation in Virginia is under-funded by about $1 billion per year. Bringing the transportation budget up to speed may require a tax increase, something that has not been done for transportation since 1986, and Shannon said “a little less than half of the House” agree that such a measure may be necessary.
Some legislators, he said, had signed a pledge not to raise taxes in any way and want to pass the transportation issue off to local jurisdictions or fund improvements by taking money from other programs. This is unacceptable, said Shannon, not only to himself but also to the governor. “Gov. [Tim] Kaine (D) has said he won’t do it at the expense of text books and hospital beds,” he said.
WHEN ASKED later whether the state’s $1 billion surplus could be used to fund transportation, Shannon said it was agreed that that is where the money should go but that a sustainable source of revenue is also necessary.
He cited handing over construction of the planned “Rail to Dulles” to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) as one innovative solution to a transportation woe, as MWAA can start immediately and has incentive to see to it that the rail goes the way to Dulles Airport.
Shannon also noted that the conference committee that is supposed to be hashing out a budget compromise for the House and Senate to vote on had met only four times. He said he and some other legislators would like to see different people named to the committee if the present lineup cannot cooperate.
Shannon mentioned a change in rules in the House that has not made his job any easier. This year, instead of a committee voting on a bill, a subcommittee of three people can meet at 6:30 a.m. and kill a bill without letting anyone know who voted against it. He said he had shown up to at least two such meetings only to see his proposed bills summarily denied access to the House floor.
“The idea here is that process really matters,” said Shannon.
NARFE Chapter President Carolyn Buttolph asked Shannon what could be done about rising property taxes. The delegate responded that the cap for seniors’ property tax relief is being raised from $340,000 in assets to $540,000 and that tax bills sent to citizens will now have to clearly state the increase in payment in a dollar amount.
QUESTIONS WERE then passed to Shannon anonymously on note cards.
Asked “how many more teenagers need to wrap themselves around trees” before cell phone use while driving is outlawed in Virginia, Shannon responded that he would like to see such a law passed but that the bill was killed in committee.
Another attendee asked why the state could not impose severe penalties on companies that hire illegal immigrants, to which Shannon responded that, beginning July 1, companies will be fined $10,000 for each instance of hiring an employee whose paperwork is not complete.
Shannon was asked how the state will address the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Kelo decision” on eminent domain, which stated that the government has the authority to take property from a citizen for public use.
“We tried to pass some legislation again this year, but the House and Senate didn’t agree,” he said. However, he said, an amendment to the State Constitution is expected to be proposed next year.
Although he did not get to address all of the questions handed to him, Shannon said he would hold onto the note cards to help guide his priorities. He said he would like to make another report to NARFE after a budget has been passed.