Transportation Holds Budget Hostage

Transportation Holds Budget Hostage

Money cannot be set aside for programs until transportation is resolved.

As Dave Edwards would find out on Thursday night, it is not easy to report what is happening with the transportation funding bill in Richmond. Edwards, the Reston Association Transportation Advisory Committee co-chair, said that tracking the bill was very difficult.

"Just today they added a page-and-a-half to the end of it," he told the RA Board of Directors at its monthly meeting on Thursday night, Jan. 25. "It's not just Republicans versus Democrats, it's also the House versus the Senate," said Edwards. He added that he believed the General Assembly would produce some sort of transportation funding this year after failing to do so last year.

Reston representatives in the General Assembly are wondering how much will transportation funding impact the state's general fund, used for education, health care and other services. "It's inevitable we'll use some general fund money, but we're working to minimize that," said Del. Ken Plum (D-36). He said the General Assembly has to remember to consider other needs for Virginians, while funding well-documented transportation needs. "We're working at maximizing transportation money while minimizing the impact it has on the general fund," said Plum.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), an advocate of improving mental health services in Virginia, said most issues regarding mental health revolve around funding. "We don't know what we can do until we know if transportation will take from the general fund," she said. "We do have to pass the budget, but education, healthcare and child care are hostages of transportation."

The reason why the transportation funding bill is constantly changing, said Howell, is because the House of Delegates is realizing that the Senate would not accept transportation funding that takes a lot of money from the general fund. She added that the bill is back on the negotiating table.

AN ISSUE that is gaining prominence as one of the top issues of concern to Reston residents, and an issue that will have to wait for the transportation funding to be approved, is the lack of child care subsidy money. Plum said it is an issue that needs to continue to have a voice. "It is a critically important issue and one of my highest priorities," said Plum. "It is also one of the reasons why we have to be careful about taking money from the general fund," he said.

As far as other bills are concerned, Howell has had mixed success with the bills she introduced so far this session. Howell's bill to require girls to receive three doses of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — with the first dose administered prior to sixth grade — has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee after passing 14-0 in the Committee on Education and Health. The vaccine is reported to be 100 percent effective against a virus that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer. "If you dream of your ideal world, it is a world without cancer," said Howell. "Hopefully this is the first step," she said.

On the other hand, Howell said she was disgusted when a bill to prohibit possession of a firearm at a child day center was defeated by a vote of 5-8 in the Committee for Courts of Justice. "It was a huge disappointment," said Howell. "It was defeated because the gun advocates own this place." Howell added that guns are not allowed in school, so they should not be allowed in day care centers either. Some of the other bills Howell is yet to introduce this session are bills relating to election laws and organ donations.

Plum's bill to create an advisory commission to draw plans to redistrict the General Assembly and congressional districts every 10th year was defeated in the House of Delegates. "I first introduced that bill in 1978 when Democrats were in control, because I don't feel we can do an objective job [of redrawing the districts]," said Plum. "It's too important to individuals to allow partisan politics to take control," said Plum. However, he said, he was pleased to hear that the bill passed in the Senate.

Plum said progress has been made in terms of requiring utility companies to use some level of renewable energy. He said the state will have to regulate the electric utility industry by imposing a cap on electricity rates, and he is attempting to add renewable energy requirements to that cap. He said utility companies agree that there is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that there is global warming. He said the companies realize they will have to use renewable energy in the future as demand for their services increases, depleting the resources.