From left, State Senators Barbara Favola (D-31) and Janet Howell (D-32), with Delegates Bob Brink (D-48), Barbara Comstock (R-34) and Mark Keam (D-35) at the McLean Community Center Wednesday, Jan. 2.
Photo by Alex McVeigh.
The McLean Citizens Association hosted a town hall meeting featuring McLean-area state representatives Wednesday, Jan. 2 at the McLean Community Center. This year’s session begins Jan. 9, and since 2013 is an odd-numbered year, the session will go for 30 days with an option to extend for a maximum of 30 additional days.
Two-year budgets are created in the even-numbered years, but Del. Bob Brink (D-48) says the assembly uses the odd-numbered years to make “mid-course corrections” after seeing where revenues and expenditures compared to projections.
He said that while revenues are at their pre-recession, 2008 level, there is still uncertainty, mostly stemming from the federal government.
“Virginia has been shielded from much of a recession by virtue of the federal government. The way this will potentially impact Virginia will be played out in the coming weeks. The fiscal cliff would have hit Virginia disproportionately and the notion of sequestration, automatic cuts to the federal government, will hit Virginia hard,” he said. “We are the number one recipient of federal procurement dollars on a per capita basis, in our area and the Hampton Roads area. Federal spending makes up 36 percent of the economy in the area.”
STATE SEN. BARBARA FAVOLA (D-31) said Medicaid expansion is one of her top priorities, and she hopes the General Assembly will “take a stand” this session and get it through.
“In my view, Virginia has an opportunity to take great steps forward to protect some of our most vulnerable and very low-income individuals by participating into the Medicaid expansion programs,” she said. “Virginia has a very skeletal Medicaid plan, to increase the actual number of individuals eligible for Medicaid, about 400,000 people, and the cost would be covered 100 percent by the Federal Government for the first three years, and then 90 percent matched by the government.”
Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34) says she will re-introduce a bill to allow schools to choose their own start dates, and she supports the 2 percent salary raise for teachers, with a caveat.
“I think it needs to be tied to some reforms. I’ve talked with teachers and different groups about their concerns over who does the evaluations and what the process is, so I think we need to work with the teachers and education community on that,” she said.
Comstock says she will also fight to ensure sales taxes in the area helps fund improvements in this area.
“I support having more of our state sales tax money stay here in this area, that is a net gain for Northern Virginia. The money we send down to Richmond, we’re not going to get that same amount back for other things,” she said. “When you look at transportation investments, we know that it’s going to be good for our entire economy.”
Sen. Janet Howell, (D-32), said she would also chase funding for local improvements.
“I’m putting in a budget amendment for $500 million, along with Sen. [Mark] Herring (D-33), to see if we can hold tolls down, they went up at the start of this year, and are scheduled to go up more, and it’s totally unfair to residents of this area,” she said.
Howell also addressed another hot topic sure to be discussed at this year’s session: gun control. It was a commonly asked question by residents in attendance. Howell says it is one of her top priorities.
“I will be putting in a gun show loophole bill this year, one that’s been put in for many years, but has always failed. I am hopeful that this year we have had tragedies of such magnitude that reason will prevail,” she said.
MANY IN THE CROWD were in agreement with Howell’s approach.
“I’m glad to see our legislators push for laws, laws that no one, not even current gun owners should be against,” said Sean Holmes, who is a gun owner. “I want to see this addressed before another tragedy like Virginia Tech comes to our doorstep.”
Del. Mark Keam (D-35), whose district is most of Vienna, with only a small parcel of McLean on Tysons Corner, is a member of the assembly’s education committee, and he says he plans to spend some time examining Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed education reforms.
“I agree with a lot of the principles of the reform, but the nuts and bolts of what the governor proposed last year just didn’t cut it with me, so we’re going to take a look at a number of those issues again,” he said.