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Driving Miss Jeannemarie

Sen. Devolites Davis town hall meeting discusses transportation, other issues.

The quiz came toward the end. At Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis’ (R-34) town hall meeting on Jan. 21, about 40 people came to talk about various issues, including proposals to increase taxes to pay for transportation.

When some of those in attendance balked at the proposals, Devolites Davis polled the audience.

“How many of you are sick of sitting in traffic?” most people raised their hands.

“How many of you think we need to do something right now?” Again, most people raised their hands.

“How many of you think we can do it for free?” This time, most people laughed.

Devolites Davis briefly explained the alternate transportation proposals released last week, one from Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and the other from top Republicans in the Senate.

“Something’s going to pass this year that is going to increase transportation funding,” she said.

One part of the Senate proposal which would increase the sales tax on gas drew criticism from Connie Drapeau of the Vienna area. “I think that’s regressive,” she said.

“I agree with you,” Devolites Davis replied. She said she found it interesting that Senate Republicans had proposed the sales tax increase, but the governor had not. “I don’t support everything in this bill,” she said.

She also noted a bill which she recently co-sponsored with Dels. Dave Albo (R-42) and Tom Rust (R-86) which would increase some taxes only in Northern Virginia in order to fund transportation initiatives in Northern Virginia. “We looked at every single thing that has a nexus to growth or transportation,” she said.

The senator explained the state’s finances in general to the audience. While some people point to the state’s budget surplus and say that there should be plenty of funding for transportation initiatives, Devolites Davis disagrees. She notes that there are a number of demands on the money, such as a percentage which must be put into the “rainy day” fund, some which must go to schools and some to Medicaid funding. Virginia also has a $1 billion obligation as part of a federal mandate to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and has only paid a few million toward it.

She notes that while it can be helpful to use the surplus on one-time expenditures, such as buying a new metrorail car, it should not be used to start a new program that would require consistent funding. “We know the economy is cyclical,” she said. “We know they’re [increased tax revenues] not going to last forever.”

NOT EVERYTHING had to do with transportation. Drapeau took Devolites Davis to task for supporting the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. “I am totally 150 percent against that bill. I think it puts Virginia in the dark ages,” Drapeau said. “I think it’s terrible that the federal and state [governments] are trying to make these people’s lives a living hell.”

Devolites Davis acknowledged that she voted for the amendment in committee. “This is a referendum that is going to be on the ballot on November,” she said. The measure must pass statewide in order to be added to the constitution.

She pointed to a recent court decision in Maryland which overturned that state’s law banning same sex marriage. A constitutional amendment, she noted, cannot be overturned by a state judge. “Every other state is looking at it,” she said.

A number of audience members were seniors who came to protest a state income tax deduction which they no longer receive.

“How and why they took that away, I don’t know,” said Jim DiStefani of Vienna. He said the bill was passed without sufficient public notice.

Devolites Davis said there had been numerous press accounts, and that members of the legislature had met with AARP prior to moving ahead with the bill. “It wasn’t done in a vacuum,” she said. It not been eliminated but means-tested, she said, so that it was phased out for higher income seniors.

Others commended Devolites Davis for a bill she introduced which mandates that electronic voting machines have a print out of each ballot as it is cast, a so called “paper trail” bill.

Devolites Davis noted that while the computers are fairly secure, there is currently no way to verify if there might be an internal malfunction that causes the machine to mis-record a vote. “That concerns me gravely,” she said. “I think we need to have that paper trail.”

Devolites Davis introduced to force members of local Boards of Supervisors to disclose campaign contributions they have received from parties involved in an amendment to a Comprehensive Plan. Currently, board members must only disclose prior to a vote on a rezoning application.

Becky Cate of the Vienna area noted that board members are only obliged to disclose that they have received contributions in excess of $100, but not how much. “You don’t know if it’s $100 or $100,000,” Cate said.

“That’s a good point, I think,” Devolites Davis said. “I’ll add it in.”