Legislators Describe 2005 Session

Legislators Describe 2005 Session

3,000 bills have been introduced.

Deputy Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer and Bill Murray from Gov. Mark Warner's office weren’t able to make it, but state Sen. Toddy Puller and delegates Kris Amundson and Mark Sickles decided to proceed with their Town Meeting as planned. Held at the South County Government Center last Saturday, Jan. 21, the heavy snow held off until the meeting was over.

Puller said that they will be amending the budget this year and she hopes that there will be some money for non-state agencies, specifically the Army Museum and the Marine Corp Museum. Puller is on the joint commission for health care and will be looking at a couple of assisted living bills. She said that close to 3,000 bills have been introduced. One local bill is asking that this area of the Richmond Highway be renamed to the Blue Star Memorial Highway; another is asking for the ability of the county to regulate mopeds.

Amundson said that there is a major initiative for a bill that will fund school efficiency audits.

“This is an opportunity to bring in the best consultants in the country. We ought to operate the schools as efficiently as possible,” said Amundson, citing statistics where Stafford County found $1.7 million in savings after an audit.

“That’s nearly $2 million more to use for teachers and classrooms,” she said.

Sickles is still pushing for his library bill, which will make funding for Fairfax County libraries more equitable. He also explained that while the state budget — $60 billion — sounds large, it’s a two-year budget, so that leaves $30 billion for each year, and out of that only half is for general funding. The other half is for non-general funds, such as transportation. He said that prior to last year’s net tax increases, the general fund had not increased.

Sickles spoke about Medicaid, saying that Virginia ranks 47th in reimbursing their doctors and that needs to be addressed.

He noted that the “Brownie Bill” which would allow Scouts and other group to sell doughnuts and other items at the polls was passed 54-40 and then reversed.

THE THREE REPRESENTATIVES then opened up the meeting for questions.

Asked why the state should fund the Army Museum, Puller said that they already have Federal and county money, and need state support. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland said, “It’s very important in terms of marketing to attract capital from the private sector to have support from all areas.”

The question about the legality of bikes on the parkway is, yes they are legal, and there’s nothing that can be done about it right now.

Puller said that she would look into the lack of dialysis in the local senior facilities; she doesn’t see it as a regulation issue, but rather a marketing decision by local facilities.

When asked about the direction of road construction, Sickles said that there has a big push for public and private partnerships since 1995 — an example of that is the Dulles Greenway.

“We are heading to a toll road future for the region,” Sickles said.

Puller and Amundson said that there will be an emphasis on rail. They are also working on HOT (High Occupancy Toll) Lanes and increasing the HOV capacity from 2 to 3 or 4 in some areas.

Asked whose responsibility it was to clean up the mess made by the construction at the Springfield Mixing Bowl, Hyland said that it was up to the contractor and Puller said that all trucks are supposed to be covered.

JOE CANNY SPOKE up for non-profit agencies, saying, “I hope you don’t forget human services. The state has diverted money to other things.”

Puller agreed and said that the most needy were being short-changed, receiving only 40 percent of what they used to get in 1970. The state collects support funds and diverts up to half of the funding.

“This needs to be changed and homeless assistance needs to be supported,” Puller said.

Amundson said that when the county first built the shelters, there was a notion that occupants would stay 30-60 days and then move on. Now, there is no place to go, so they can’t move on, and there’s no room for new people to come in.

Puller is frustrated because the budget for Healthy Families had been cut back. Also, it has become a Catch-22, because the Department of Social Services doesn’t want to use Healthy Families money unless the children are in child protective services, but the whole point of the program is to be preventive and keep them from being placed in protective services.

There were several environmental concerns aired, specifically about Huntley Meadows being used to make way for the new Woodlawn Road alternative. Hyland guaranteed that would not happen, but could not say that they wouldn’t be cutting through the wetlands corridor. A woman who is lobbying for the Clean Streams Act stressed that if there’s an alternative between public transportation and new roads, that the representatives should take that option.

When asked about the budget surplus, the representatives said that most of the money has been spoken for. Puller responded to a question about the car tax, saying that the original proposal was to repeal it, but that the cut has been draining the budget, so it’s still partially in place.