0
Votes

Caputo Addresses WFCCA Meeting

Discusses legislative session and transportation woes.

If nothing is done, by 2015 Virginia will run out of money for new transportation projects.

Del. Chuck Caputo (D-67th) presented this sobering fact during Monday night's meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA). He came there to discuss highlights of the past General Assembly session, as well as "our failure to make any headway in the area of transportation."

CAPUTO, who represents 15 precincts in western Fairfax County and one in eastern Loudoun County, noted the many bills that were passed by the legislature. And he stressed that several of them were to protect the environment, strengthen the laws against sexual predators and provide real-estate tax relief for senior citizens and the disabled.

"We approved record funding for K-12 education — more than $1.5 billion — including 4-percent raises for teachers," said Caputo. "We approved $40 million more for early-childhood programs and more than $240 million for increased college enrollment."

In addition, he said more than $200 million was allocated toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, plus another $22 million to clean up other rivers in Virginia. Funding was also OK'd to allow mentally ill and mentally retarded people to be treated in their communities, rather than in institutions.

Also passed was a tax credit for long-term care insurance. People would be credited for 15 percent of the amount they paid for this insurance during the tax year.

Other successful bills dealt with increasing the penalties for people owning dogs designated as dangerous, and providing college tuition at in-state levels for children living in Virginia while their parents are on active military duty overseas.

Caputo said legislation was also passed requiring "coordination between land-use and transportation planning, and the preparation of traffic-impact statements for rezoning requests. There's no question that the major issue is transportation gridlock."

He then presented some facts explaining why:

* Over the last 20 years, rush-hour traffic in Virginia has doubled.

* In 2010, all transportation funding will be for maintaining existing roads or matching federal dollars.

* In 2010, Virginia won't be able to qualify for matching transit funds.

* In 2011, it won't qualify for matching federal funds.

* In 2015, it will have no more money to carry out any new road projects.

DURING THE PAST Virginia legislative session, said Caputo, "No additional money was approved for transportation — even during the Sept. 27-28 special session." And while he, of course, realizes the need for more transportation funding — especially in Northern Virginia — as a member of the finance committee, he doesn't wanted money diverted from the General Fund to transportation.

That's because he fears it would come at the expense of sorely needed funding for education, public safety and health care. "Education funding in Virginia lags behind the national average," he said. "Our school infrastructure is aging and our school population is increasing."

Caputo believes that he and his colleagues in the state legislature need to come up with a bipartisan committee and solution to solve the transportation-funding problem.

"I've established the 67th District Transportation Committee to help me form legislative initiatives," he said. "And I'm also helping pull together a Northern Virginia transportation package based on the input of the Northern Virginia legislators."

Caputo noted that Loudoun County is considering a change to its Comprehensive Plan in the Dulles South area that would allow the construction of more than 33,000 new homes and commercial uses in the Route 50 Corridor. "The impact of such development will be horrendous [on the area roads]," he said. "I testified in opposition to it."

He told the audience that, on Monday, Loudoun's Board of Supervisors said it will hold work sessions prior to its vote on the proposed Comprehensive Plan change. So, said Caputo, "It's a great opportunity to pass on your comments to the board — through your elected officials — before its decision."

Loudoun resident Sandra Chaloux, with the Gum Spring Regional Citizens Network — which opposes the Comprehensive Plan change — asked Caputo how his constituents are responding to the lack of transportation funding.

"Are people indicating they're not willing to pay more taxes?" she asked. "I'd certainly be willing to pay more taxes for transportation benefits."

"It's a mixed bag," replied Caputo. He said some people are against this idea, while others are for it, as long as these taxes are earmarked for transportation improvements in Northern Virginia. Caputo said the business community is especially in favor of it because it realizes the importance of the road system "in order to maintain business growth in Northern Virginia and attract new businesses."

Ray Gustave of Virginia Run said he's against raising taxes unless Northern Virginia receives a greater share of its own money back from the state. "Gov. Kaine says a $339 million surplus will be in the budget and he'll earmark it for transportation," said Gustave. "How much will come to Northern Virginia?"

"THE GENERAL Assembly said it'll go to transportation statewide if we can come up with a transportation plan by Nov. 1," answered Caputo. "And we haven't." He also noted that Northern Virginia's evacuation planning and capability is "Grade F" because of its traffic gridlock.

"That's a big concern to me," he said. "And it's something that should be a factor in any transportation decisions we make."

Sequoia Farms resident Cheryl Repetti said there are state-established, regional planning commissions. So, she asked, "Is there any chance for the state legislature to address transportation, the environment and transit development on a regional basis? You might get counties like Loudoun to cooperate more."

Caputo didn't have an immediate answer, but said it would be an interesting thing to research. WFCCA's Carol Hawn also decried the lack of regular meetings between the Fairfax and Loudoun supervisors. "In the 10 years I've been active [in county and community issues], we've had two," she said.

Replied Caputo: "There's a value in me also representing Loudoun County — even just one precinct. I can testify before the Loudoun County legislators. So, yes, any of our elected delegates and senators can do this, if they want. But how you get the Fairfax and Loudoun boards together, I'm not sure how you pull that off."

Gustave then said that, "If VDOT established a forum for citizens to provide input, they might provide information about the [road] problems we have in the area." Caputo's legislative assistant, LuAnn Maciulla McNabb, said VDOT plans to work on that very thing.