Transportation and health care concerns topped the list for City of Fairfax residents at a town hall meeting Saturday, Jan. 21 with Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34).
Devolites Davis began the afternoon by outlining the specifics of the state budget as well as a few transportation plans in the works.
The Senate plan, presented by Virginia Sens. John Chichester (R-28), Charles Hawkins (R-19) and Marty Williams (R-1), is a combination of specific fund directives and tax increases to support the state’s transportation needs. The plan includes removing the 2 percent discount on motor vehicle sales, applying the same tax rate for diesel fuel as for gasoline, encourages high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and increasing the vehicle registration fee by $10 and $20 for cars and SUVs respectively. The plan would add $1.2 billion for transportation projects.
"In order to do large projects — extended rail, widening large highways, adding additional roads — we're going to have to have sustainable forms of revenue," said Devolites Davis.
A COMPETING PLAN proposed by Gov. Tim Kaine (D) will likely end up in a dead heat between the Senate and House of Delegates, said Devolites Davis. The plan will, among other things, create a transportation commission, change laws to lessen development's impact on transportation, and increase local highway-building programs by about 90 percent. To fund the project, the governor's transportation initiative will include a 2 percent increase in the auto sales tax, increased fees for abusive drivers, a larger insurance premium tax for cars as well as a weight-based registration fees.
Devolites Davis said she agreed with a provision in Kaine's plan giving local governments more power to nix development plans if they feared a negative traffic impact. But the problem with both proposals, she said, is that they operate under a funding formula that is bad for Northern Virginia. Working with Dels. Dave Albo (R-42) and Tom Rust (R-86), Devolites Davis developed a plan that would raise transportation-related fees in Northern Virginia, adding revenue for area transportation projects.
"What the three of us wanted to do was to find sources of revenue which would be raised in Northern Virginia, and stay in Northern Virginia," she said.
City resident Charles Botwright asked about a plan to put the Dulles Toll Road up for a 50-year lease to private companies, who would take over maintenance of the road from the Virginia Department of Transportation but also keep the toll profits.
"The money doesn’t come up here anyway," said Botwright.
Devolites Davis said she was not in favor of selling roads to private companies.
"I have to keep asking myself, why can't VDOT take care of it and keep the profits themselves?" she said.
CITY RESIDENT Hugh Conway expressed concern over the lack of competition among local hospitals.
"I'm a little concerned about the oversight the state has given the hospital system in Northern Virginia," he said. Currently, he said, hospital developers have to present a certificate of need to local governments before they can build a facility. A lack of competition sometimes leads to poor emergency-room service, he said.
"That does create a challenge for a new hospital to come in and create competition," said Devolites Davis. But hospitals also have to deal with both a nursing shortage and a strain when people use the emergency room for regular service because they do not have health care, she said.
Terry Mansberger, of local gay-rights advocacy group Equality Fairfax, said he was concerned about a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The proposed amendment, which has to pass the General Assembly once more before being offered to the public to vote on, also prohibits the state from recognizing "a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage."
"It's a bad thing for Virginia to do," said Mansberger. "If you want to define marriage as between a man and a woman, that's fine, but this amendment goes far beyond that." By including the vague "unmarried individuals" language, he said, the amendment would bar all unmarried couples — gay and straight — from the rights afforded to married couples.
Devolites Davis said the amendment was something constituents had asked for, and that she would support it. But she would continue to vote for anti-discrimination laws, she said.