As Sully District's first Democrat ever elected to state office, Del. Chuck Caputo (D-67) began his first General Assembly session last week. And, he said, "I'm very energized and excited about it; I can't wait to get started."
The biggest issue facing the legislators this time, said Caputo, is transportation, followed closely by education Ñ "the concern for maintaining the quality of education and adding more dollars to it."
WHEN IT COMES to transportation, he said, "We need to work in concert, bipartisan fashion, with the Northern Virginia legislators and with the other legislators, too. We need to forget about party lines Ñ this is a crisis that we've got to solve."
Caputo, 67, of Oak Hill, said both short- and long-term planning is important, as well as seeing what revenue sources can be identified and working on continuing the revenue stream. "We should examine every reasonable alternative for the sources of money," he said.
He's also an advocate for rail. "My going-in position has always been complete rail to Dulles," he said. "And now there are four or five proposals to do that, including one by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority."
Believing it's crucial to find some solutions for easing traffic on Route 50 and I-66, Caputo said, "We need to look at running rail to Gainesville on I-66, widening Route 50 in spots and completing the widening of Stringfellow Road, as soon as possible."
Regarding education, he's going to introduce a bill to change the Local Composite Index to benefit Fairfax and Loudoun counties. "It would change the formula by which the state allocates money for school systems," he explained. Currently, it's based on an area's wealth, as reflected by real-estate values and income levels.
"Doing so results in less dollars allocated to our area," said Caputo. "So the bill would change the formula to include the factors that drive our costs up Ñ such as the number of special-education and ESOL students we have, plus our teaching costs."
CONSIDERING THOSE factors, he said, "would result in greater revenue for our area. I strongly believe the state needs to pony up the dollars we need for K-12 education."
Caputo's also concerned about funding for higher education. He's vice chair of the Northern Virginia Community College Board of Trustees and there was a budget hearing last week at the Annandale campus.
"Representatives of the state Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, the citizens and I talked about the needs, which are capacity-driven," he said. "The State Council on Higher Education projects that, by 2012, there'll be 56,000 students that cannot be accommodated by public colleges."
Of that number, said Caputo, 13,000 are at the NVCC campuses Ñ "more than any other state college in Virginia. And GMU will have a similar capacity level. So we need funding from the state toward building capacity by capital improvements."
Needed, as well, he said, is money to hire faculty and support staff." Gov. Warner's budget has included some funds in it for this," said Caputo. "And hopefully, the new governor's budget will continue in the same vein. The state has a commitment for fully funding public education. But there's a significant gap between what the state says it'll pay and what it actually does for all the school operating costs, including teachers' salaries."
Before heading to Richmond, Caputo said he was excited by the fact that "we have a really good class of delegates Ñ 18 new people. Attending the orientations, [I could tell that] there's a great team spirit being built in this class."
He said they all understand the needs and, "hopefully, this will all carry forward in a true, bipartisan session. And we in the Northern Virginia delegation have to make sure we're unified, so we need to work together Ñ and I think that can happen." He also believes he can make some valuable contributions, himself.
"I've spoken to the Speaker of the House, Bill Howell, and I asked him to put me on the Education, Transportation and Science and Technology committees," said Caputo. "But I welcome any assignment because it will provide me the opportunity to make friendships with other delegates from other areas." That way, he said, Northern Virginia lawmakers will be able "to build the coalition we'll need to pass the legislation that will benefit us."
He believes it's important for each delegate to appreciate what all the other delegates are trying to do on behalf of their constituencies, and what they need. "Why not compromise and work together to see what we can get for each area?" he wondered.
AS A FORMER federal government employee and past member of the Fairfax County School Board, Caputo said, "I've had 36 years of this type of experience. There were Republicans and Democrats on the School Board, but you work together for the good of the students. And one skill I have is being able to bring people to the table to effectively work out a solution for a need."
Noting his concern for being sensitive to the constituency he serves, he's already scheduled his first, town hall meeting. It's set for Saturday, Jan. 28, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., in the Sully District Governmental Center, 4900 Stonecroft Blvd. in Chantilly. Caputo will discuss his first few weeks in the General Assembly and will listen to constituents' concerns and answer questions.
"I'm so appreciative of the voters out there and their trust in me in this mission," he said. "And I'm dedicated to serving the constituency's needs."