Half-way between the end of the recent legislative session and the governor's final vote on the bills passed in those 46 days, Del. Mark Sickles (D-43) said he's hopeful the transportation bill will be amended before becoming law.
"I voted for the plan in the hopes the governor could fix its glaring weaknesses," said Sickles from his Alexandria office. "There's not much in this bill other than the two regional plans. There's great potential in the Northern Virginia plan if we can get everyone working together."
The transportation bill, which narrowly passed both houses, may be amended by the governor during an April 4 session, Sickles said.
"The Republican majority has made some small steps toward helping us help ourselves fund transportation, but looking at the statewide plan, we'd never know the difference" if the bill had passed or failed, he said.
If the bill is signed into law, Northern Virginia will borrow $300,000 a year for the next eight years from the state's general fund to finance transportation projects, which would be paid back over 20 years, Sickles said. While some debt is responsible, he believes there should be a more secure, long-term source of funding to solve Northern Virginia's transportation troubles.
For Sickles, a bright spot did shine forth in the transportation debate: his bill to use one-half of any surplus money at the end of a budget year toward transportation projects was included in the transportation plan.
That wasn't his only success in the 2007 session either, as a bill that would provide a 20 percent exemption on property taxes was initially approved.
"We'll have to come back and pass that again in the same language next winter for it to be on the November 2008 ballot, but it would allow the government to exempt up to 20 percent of a person's primary residence from property taxes," Sickles said of his homestead exemption plan. "Combined with the existing senior property tax relief program, I think this will allow the Board of Supervisors to create a fair, more comprehensive senior tax relief effort."
SICKLES WAS disappointed when a bill that would have provided incentives for bio-technology firms to locate in Virginia did not pass.
"All the states around us are trying to help small biotechs get started," he said, including Maryland which uses state money to finance stem cell research. While Virginia doesn't have any bills supporting stem cell research, Sickles said his bill wouldn't necessarily limit spending to that type of research.
"The bill was to help keep Virginia competitive in bioscience in general," he said. "I'm going to work on this over the next year with a delegate from Virginia Beach who had a similar bill dealing with nanotechnology. We want to make sure Virginia stays competitive in science and has a vibrant science community."
Sickles said he plans to make a formal announcement about running for re-election later this spring but is not sure who he'll face in November. Returning to Richmond will, undoubtedly, mean more transportation talk.
"In the future, we'll have to continue working on transportation," he said. "It's clear that if we're successful in passing this current bill, it is, at best, a partial solution."