Opinion ‘It does not take a real estate expert to understand that a fire and rescue station located in a residential neighborhood lowers home values’
Based on the results of the response time analysis, I fully support the city’s effort to build a new fire and rescue station to serve the southern portion of the city and the airport.
Several months ago, when I received news that Lee Manor Park located at 9650 Shannon Lane, across the street from our house, was one of the proposed locations for a new fire and rescue station, my wife and I got concerned because location is parkland in a residential neighborhood adjacent to George C. Round Elementary School. On Thursday of last week, I was informed that the city was moving forward with the new fire and rescue station at Lee Manor Park.
I spent a better part of my weekend canvassing my neighborhood (Lee Manor), as well as other neighborhoods nearby the location of the proposed fire and rescue station to receive public input from the neighborhoods impacted by the new fire and rescue station. Every person I spoke to, including Delegate Jackson Miller, is strongly opposed to the idea of having a fire and rescue station in the location of Lee Manor Park next to George C. Round Elementary School. (more…)
Several days ago, I was shocked to learn that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has given notice to terminate its arrangement with the Prince William County Registrar at the Caton Hill DMV Office. I could not believe what I was hearing.
Voter participation is one of the most important things in any democracy but not all citizens are given equal access to that franchise- and we are learning that this week here in Woodbridge. Virginia has a long history in this area and none of it has been positive.
A few precincts in Woodbridge actually became nationally known because of four to five hour long lines in order to cast a vote in the 2012 election. Of course those also happened to be the precincts with the largest percentage of minority voters, and the precincts where President Obama was expected to be the strongest.
Now once again, Woodbridge voters are being targeted by Virginia in a way that could hamper attempts to turn our voters out. For the last decade the one refuge from potentially long lines on election day was the option to vote early at the DMV office in Woodbridge. In Virginia, early voters must state a reason in order to vote- but most residents in our area qualify for either expecting to leave Prince William County at any time on election day or having a combined work/commute schedule on election day that exceeds 11 hours.
As residents have learned of this option, turnout has increased at the Woodbridge DMV every year and turnout in our area continues to rise- especially for important off year elections. I support no excuse needed absentee voting to raise turnout even higher. But despite all of that somehow the Commissioner of DMV has decided that the Commonwealth will close our voter registration and early vote center at the Woodbridge DMV.
I’m absolutely appalled that this is even being discussed and without any notice or input from our community. As your next State Delegate, I pledge to introduce legislation that would force all state agencies to accommodate early voting when requested by the locality. This is a no brainer decision, and will save local taxpayer dollars. We can not allow thousands of voters to be silenced.
Here in the Route 1 corridor most of our residents work jobs and have long commutes- we need to make it easy for them to participate in voting, not harder. Just last year Alabama made national news for closing its opportunities for early voting in the areas with the most minority voters.
Please join me in raising our voices together now to ensure Virginia- and specifically those of us in southern Prince William County- does not follow that example. Virginia’s history may be voter suppression, but let’s make our future into being a state that encourages voter participation. If you agree I hope you will join my campaign by visiting my website.
I believe that everyone should have clean drinking water.
So, I was deeply disturbed when I found out that homeowners surrounding Dominion Energy’s Possum Point power plant had found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in their wells. I was shocked to also find out that Dominion stores a byproduct of burning coal — toxic coal ash — in onsite man-made ponds with less protection beneath them than would be required for any household waste landfill.
I found out these facts when I attended one of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s hearings on the Possum Point plant a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve grown more concerned about our water. These holding ponds were built in 1988, haven’t been tested since, and wouldn’t meet current Environmental Protection Agency standards to prevent leaks if built today. (more…)
Opinion ‘It is a sad day when we use words like bigot and white supremacists…because of differing political views’
If Harry Wiggins didn’t single handedly hand over the election to Jackson Miller, he certainly helped him along to victory.
Wiggins, the Chairman of Prince William’s Democratic Committee on Tuesday likened Miller — a long-serving Republican in the House of Delegates, past Manassas City Counselor, and a former police officer in Arlington and Prince William counties — to President Trump, and called both white supremacists.
Residents both black and white have denounced his statement.
“The official comment from the [Prince William County] Democratic Chair may have just solidified my undecided vote for Mr. Miller. The name-calling in national politics is bad enough. If Mr. Wiggins wishes to bring that style of politics to [Prince William County], I will vote against his candidate every time,” James Johnson, of Bristow posted to Facebook.
Wiggins’s comments plunge our community deeper into the political divide, escalating our county into what many see the new national political status quo of an angry, polarized nation full of discontent and hate. (more…)
From Tim Singstock, of Montclair:
The community has engaged in debate over naming the new elementary school under construction in the Potomac Shores Community. Prince William County is blessed to have two wonderful choices for the school naming: Betty Covington and John Harper.
I met Mr. Harper and his wife at the 2016 NAACP dinner in Quantico. As an Army veteran and son of a Vietnam Veteran, I honor Mr. Harper’s military and combat service. (more…)
Submitted by Kay Larrieu:
I’m really frustrated about finding out what is happening in the Virginia General Assembly. Surely, while it is in session, you could publish what’s going on, what’s up for a vote, how local delegates are voting?
Why is it so difficult to come by this sort of news, and yet what’s more important than becoming engaged in civic affairs?
I don’t see the logic of omitting this sort of news unless one doesn’t want citizens to know what is going on.
Editor’s note: Potomac Local is limited by our current level of financial support on the type and amount of news we can cover (Advertising pays the bills, and we don’t charge a subscription fee at this time, so it’s a free content buffet). We publish stories from VCU Capital News Service from time to time provided the stories are about issues and legislators from our area.
Opinion ‘My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving’
On Wednesday, January 11, the 2017 Session of the General Assembly Session will gavel in for a 45-day “short” session. I am looking forward to a very busy six weeks and would like to update you on my plans for session. I am introducing nearly 40 bills, but here are a few highlights.
First, lagging state revenues continue to limit legislative initiatives and create funding priorities. The Virginia State Police is hemorrhaging Troopers due to lagging pay and a planned two percent raise for teachers and state employees was delayed after anticipated revenues fell short. They will be a priority this year.
My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving. Between January 1 and July 1 of 2016, traffic fatalities in the United States were up by 10% – for the first time in 50 years. Most experts attribute this to distracted driving. Anyone driving our roads only has to look at the vehicle next to them to realize this is a problem that requires attention. (more…)
Opinion ‘If you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally’
I am writing to tell you about an exciting event happening at the [Prince William County] School Board meeting on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. My name is Barbara Larrimore and I have three young children; two of which are attending Lake Ridge Elementary School. Through watching and volunteering at the school, hours of research, and calling other counties and highly ranked schools in the state of Virginia, that PWC is not allowing best practices for our youngest citizens.American Academy of Pediatrics states that children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Half of our children’s waking hours are spent at school so they should be getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day (recess or P.E.). On most days, out of the 6.5 hours, they spend in school, my children will only get 15 minutes of physical activity. This is a staggeringly low number for my exuberant five and eight-year-old.Please, if you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally for more recess on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the school board meeting! Feel free to share this with your family and friends.
“I have been a resident of eastern [Prince William County] since 2008 and I’ve seen the county undergo many changes. What has become concerning to me is the panhandling situation. I come from NYC and have spent time in DC and I have never felt so harassed when I go shopping like I have in PWC. In the last month every time I visited Walmart, Target, Big Lots, 7-11, Hobby Lobby, etc I have been approach[ed] at MY Vehicle with a panhandle asking for money. It’s as if they are just waiting and don’t even give you a chance to exit your vehicle. I want to know what are the laws in the county on panhandling? Are other residents feeling harassed too? What are officials doing to stop this? Are they even aware of this problem? …Thank you in advance for addressing my concern.”
From Prince William County spokesman Jason Grant:
“…the County’s panhandling ordinances were repealed for legal reasons. Attached is a handout that the County Attorney’s Office provided on the issue.”
Opinion ‘How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom’
We got this statement from Delegate Bob Marshall about his new bathroom bill HB 1612 which he says will “protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex” in government-owned or rented buildings.
Agree with him or disagree with him? Leave it in the comments.
How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom at a state park? Would parents want their 14-year-old daughters on the school swim team taking showers with 17-year-old biological males in a public school locker room? Would women feel safe stopping at an Interstate rest stop knowing biological males could use the women’s bathroom?
Because identifying as transgender is about how an individual perceives themselves how can a biological female third party possibly distinguish between a transgender individual who means no harm and a male predator using the ladies room who does intend harm?
It is because of situations like this that more than six hundred parents and students in Prince William County and many more in Fairfax County attended meetings to oppose changes in school policies which would have allowed biological males to use the bathrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and showers set aside for females, and vice-versa.
In response to that outpouring of concern for the safety and privacy of our children, I have introduced HB 1612 to preserve current law to prevent schools and government entities from changing policies that protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex.
Opinion Reader: Schools should wait for Supreme Court, Virginia Supreme Court to rule on LGBT matter
OP-ED EXCLUSIVELY FOR POTOMACLOCAL.com
School Board Should Wait For The Courts
By Carrie Beliles, resident of Triangle, VA
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Word count: 638
Next week, the Prince William School Board will vote on a major policy proposal to add “gender identity” to the school’s non-discrimination policy. Enacting this new policy could allow transgender faculty and students to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of current biological anatomy.
My family moved to Prince William County because it is a welcoming and compassionate place for all people. I enjoy that multiple cultures and people with diverse belief backgrounds all live together in relative harmony. While I believe we should protect transgender students from harassment and discrimination, this policy proposal could have far-reaching ramifications.
This gender identity policy is being debated in Courts all across the nation, and is even on its way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In August, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s guidance directive on the use of bathrooms by transgender students, (State of Texas et al v. United States of America). Also in August, the U.S. Supreme Court halted a lawsuit by a student in Gloucester County, Virginia, effectively ruling that the County did not have to open up their bathrooms, locker rooms and showers to opposite gender students (G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board). Earlier this year, 51 families in Illinois (the district in which I graduated High School, Palatine High School) filed suit against two federal agencies and Township High School District 211 on this issue, as well (Students and Parents for Privacy, et al v. United States Departments of Education and Justice, Township High School District 211, and Cook County, Illinois).On Monday, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to take up a challenge to Fairfax County’s “gender identity” policy change (Andrea Lafferty, et al, v. School Board of Fairfax County). This is the very same policy being voted and considered by the School Board on September 21 in Prince William.
Moving forward with this policy now in Prince William could open up the County to frivolous lawsuits and protracted litigation that drain taxpayer resources that could be allocated to classrooms across the county. While the constitutionality of this policy change is debated in the courts, Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers should put this on hold until the Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court have ruled on this matter.
In law school, I was taught the importance of judicial precedence in how the law is administered; which means that previous rulings have significant sway on future rulings. Judicial precedent provides a blueprint for how a law should be implemented and interpreted. Precedent will be created by the US Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court very soon. The Prince William School Board should align itself with judicial precedent as the way forward on this issue.
If the School Board believes some action is necessary in the here and now, they should do three things: 1) evaluate the track-record of transgender welfare and determine if a problem exists; 2) take their time to debate implementation logistics and unintended consequences of this policy change; and 3) wait for the Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court to rule on this matter.
The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has not be cited as a problem at this time. This is good news.
To summarize, in order to protect our County from unnecessary lawsuits and to avoid the embarrassing possibility of a policy reversal, School Board Chairman Sawyers should push this vote to a later date allowing higher judicial precedent to pave a smoother way for our community.
Opinion Prince William Black Pastors: Revised schools discrimination policy ‘would threaten the privacy rights of our students’
The following letter to Prince William County School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers was sent to use in an emailed titled “PWC BLACK PASTORS OPPOSE SCHOOL BOARD “GENDERIDENTITY” REVISION”
Dear Chairman Sawyers and School Board Members,
We are writing to express our concern and objection to Revision of Policy 060, “Nondiscrimination And Commitment To Equity”, because of its expected implementation regarding the use of private facilities by transgender students in Prince William County schools.
This revision would update the school system’s non-discrimination policy to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the group of protected classes, along with race, color, religion, national origin, and gender. Adding “gender identity” to this non-discrimination clause would allow transgender students and staff to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of biological anatomy.
While you may consider this potential change as ensuring diversity within our schools, the reality is this potential policy change would threaten the privacy rights of our students. No female or male student nor teacher should be forced to use a bathroom, locker room or shower area with someone of the opposite gender simply because that individual no longer identifies with or ignores their biological anatomy.
Our concern is also that we do not recall there being a lengthy and thorough discussion of how the county plans to safely enforce such a policy change. There has been no regulatory analysis on how this policy would be implemented. There has been no discussion or meetings on making sure that sexual misconduct does not occur or that sexual predators do not take advantage of this policy change.
Finally, this policy revision would force many students to compromise their deeply-held beliefs about privacy, modesty and sexuality. This policy revision would place children in the uncomfortable position of compromising their beliefs or face disciplinary action for having those beliefs.
Our churches are politically diverse congregations in Eastern Prince William County, and represent Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It would be wrong for the Prince William County School Board to ignore the will of its people by making this change while so many citizen concerns exists within our community.
We believe that every person is created in the image of God and deserving of respect and compassion. We unequivocally denounce all violence and bullying against LGBTQ people, but this revision will result in the discrimination against the majority of our children. To deny basic privacy to our students is the suppression of their rights. Like you, we want to make sure our children can learn absent a hostile environment, such as bullying. For that reason, as parents and pastors, we are grateful for your anti-bullying policies as they stand because they promote decency and order.
The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has never been a problem. For years, Prince William County Public Schools have protected and accommodated transgender students and staff in a respectful, private and genuine manner, therefore no revision is needed. The changes you are considering will place the ideology of a few powerful politicians above the right to privacy for the overwhelming majority of our families.
Therefore, we humbly request that you not pursue such a policy change.
Bishop Lyle Dukes, Harvest Life Changes Church, Woodbridge
Bishop Derek Grier, Grace Church Dumfries
Pastor Eric Kellum, Zion Church Woodbridge
Pastor Kurt Wallace, Freedom Fellowship Church, Dale City
Pastor Stephen Oni, Christ Apostolic Church, Joy Vineyard, Woodbridge
Pastor Sharon Fernandez, Spirit of the Living Christ Ministry, Woodbridge
Bishop John H. Reid, III, Victory Family Outreach Ministry, Woodbridge
Pastor Madlin Edmonds, New Creatures-in-Christ Community Church, Woodbridge
Pastor Victor Stanley, Calvary Baptist Church, Woodbridge
Pastor Al Stith, Word of Life Church, International, Woodbridge
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will decide on Sept. 20, 2016 to allow Verizon Wireless to erect a 144-foot monopole for telecommunications at Prince of Peace United Methodist Church, located at 6299 Token Foreset Drive near Dale City.
The Prince William County Planning Commission and staff say the pole is a good idea.
A reader who submitted the letter below says monopoles are outdated.
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors should turn down the request to construct a monopole at 6299 Token Forest Dr. Manassas, Virginia at their September 20, 2016 meeting. Here’s why:
• Wireless technology is rapidly evolving and will continue to evolve. Globally, we’re on pace to deploy fully enabled wireless devices that will have far greater mobile computing power than is available today. The question is, should we embrace the past with big ugly “legacy” towers or does Prince William County bring the “future into the present”? There is new technology available thanks to 5G capability (Economist Magazine 2-16-16). This means technology that is smaller, has a less visible antenna, and has better speed and connectivity.
• We should be more aggressive about embracing the future instead of being stuck with a 144-foot ugly pole that reduces property values for our residents. Residents living near the proposed monopole each paid additional lot premiums. These premiums exceed a combined total of $100,000 for a number of the residents living near the proposed site. They could suffer a significant economic loss.
• Prince William County can utilize this as one more opportunity to establish itself as the innovation center in Northern Virginia.
• Embracing the future opens up limitless opportunities & economic development potential for the county.
We invite the Board of Supervisors to join us by defeating this proposal and rapidly moving Prince William County into the future.
Daniel A. Varroney
Importance of Manufacturing To Local Economy
Watching both party’s conventions on television this week as both a City Councilman and concerned Republican, I couldn’t help but reflect on just how lucky we are to live in such a great country. I’m so very proud to play a small role in our representative democracy as a member of the Manassas City Council. We have such a great city.
A large part of what makes our city great is our strong and forward-thinking manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is woven into the very fabric of our local economy: Its importance goes far beyond what happens behind the factory gates.
The jobs that Micron, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Aurora Flight Sciences serve an important role, offering economic opportunity to literally thousands of hard-working, high-skilled, Manassas-area residents. These jobs create upward mobility that broadens and strengthens the middle-class to the benefit of the entire economy and fosters American technology and innovation leadership.
As a member of Council, it is my job to create the best environment for business and economic stability that I can. To achieve economic stability, diversity in the economy is critical.
Although manufacturing is certainly affected by broader economic events, the sector’s internal diversity—supplying consumer goods as well as industrial goods, serving both domestic and external markets— gives it great resiliency, which in turn makes it a critical element to our economic success.
We need to support these companies and others like them and not take their presence here for granted. Other parts of Virginia are not as lucky as we are here in Manassas. More than 130,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the Commonwealth since 2001.
As the nation turns its focus towards the November election, let’s remember to send a message to our lawmakers in Washington that our manufacturers need not just citizen support, but their support as well. A strong city needs a strong manufacturing base, and a strong nation needs the same. The strength or weakness of American manufacturing carries implications for the entire economy, our national security, and the well-being of all Americans.
Prince William County Supervisor Nohe:What do the President of the United States, the Honorable Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax, the Town of Herndon, and the Counties of Arlington and Fairfax all have in common? All have declared June 2016 to be LGBT Pride Month. These declarations were also made in 2014 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lgbt-pride-month/) and 2015 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-pride-month/).This is a conversation that our Equality Prince William President started two years ago and one he has been trying to continue, most recently with a request more than 5 weeks ago for an appointment with you. He has recently spoke with Kelsey Clark who assured me that she had made you aware of this request.Equality Prince William has more than 300 members on our Facebook page and those individuals are members, friends, relatives, allies, and supporters of the Prince William LGBT community. They reside in all 7 Magisterial Districts of Prince William County as well as the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.June is already half gone, but given the tragedy in Orlando, Florida recently and the outpouring of support for the LGBT Community worldwide as a result, I can’t stress enough what the gesture of the Prince William Board of Supervisors declaring June to be Pride Month for this year and in the years to come would mean for your constituents.Thank you for your consideration and have a great evening. Jim O’Connor (Equality Prince William President) and I are willing to meet with you in person to discuss this.David Dooley, Vice PresidentEquality Prince WilliamP.O. Box 6983Woodbridge, VA 22195
On January 13, 2016, I take my oath of office as your state senator. I am planning on introducing approximately 40 bills and about a dozen budget amendments in our 60-day session.
Predatory lending is a major problem in the U.S. 1 Corridor. Car title lenders have been abusing this loophole by charging rates over 200% by recharacterizing car title loans as separately regulated car title loans. To reign in car title lender bait and switch tactics, I am proposing to limit interest rates on consumer finance loans at 36%. I have also introduced legislation to prohibit car title lenders from using subsidiaries from using the open end credit loophole to also evade consumer protections.
High occupancy toll lanes or “HOT Lanes” have brought some much needed relief and predictability to commuters on I-495, I-95 and I-395 – but at a price. However, the collection of unpaid tolls through the courts has highlighted problems in the current system. I have introduced legislation to confirm a one-year statute of limitations on unpaid toll collections and to only allow a toll collector to collect stepped up fines after an actual conviction of a prior offense. This will prevent HOT lanes operators from suing commuters for over $2,000 for four offenses involving less than $20 of unpaid tolls, and provides some notice and fairness to the collection process.
I have also introduced legislation directing the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to study restructuring Virginia’s tolls to give some credit to in-state residents for the existing taxpayer investment in road projects. Other states, including Maryland, provide in-state residents discounts on toll roads. We should do the same.
I have also re-introduced a bill to restructure voting on the Board that decides how transportation money is spent based on current population instead of 1930’s congressional district boundaries.
I am carry several bills to increase government transparency. The first, reverses the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion in my case versus Department of Corrections interpreting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Court held that if one sentence in a government record is exempt from FOIA, the government can withhold an entire document. I called that the “poison pill” rule and my bill requires the government to redact information instead of withholding entire documents.
The Court also held that a Court reviewing FOIA response is required to give “great deference” to the government’s decision that information should not be disclosed. That decision runs completely against the purpose of FOIA which is to allow citizens to ensure their government is being run transparently.
I am also introducing legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from withholding police reports from families involving deaths or suicides as is the present practice. I have also introduced legislation prohibiting local governments from using executive session to discuss salary raises for elected officials as occurred last year here in Northern Virginia.
Thanks to Congressman Beyer’s amendment to federal transportation legislation, I have introduced legislation confirming that Virginia’s localities have the authority regulate predatory towing. Also, I am carrying a bill to create a cause of action against corporations that fail to include mandatory language in consumer contracts and limit consumer’s remedies.
Plastic bags are the second largest pollutant in our area creeks. I will introduce legislation that would authorize localities in Northern Virginia to charge a $0.05 per bag tax on plastic bags.
Finally, I will introduce legislation requiring investor owned utilities to remove and store coal ash in modern landfills. There is a seventy-year old leaking coal ash dump less than 1,000 yards from the Potomac River in Dumfries, Virginia. Similar legislation was passed in North Carolina’s Republican legislature last year.
You should be receiving my 2016 Constituent Survey in the mail this week. If you would like to save a stamp, you can fill it out online atwww.scottsurovell.org/survey.
It will be a very busy year and I will write about a few more of my bills next week. Please continue to send me your input firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.
The 2016, 60-day session of the Virginia General Assembly gavels in on January 13.
The legislature will craft a two-year budget, which will be Governor McAuliffe’s first chance to put his stamp on the state’s finances. While Virginia’s economy lags behind the national average, revenue is up more than average for the first time since I was elected in 2009 and there are many unmet needs worthy of funding.
Supporting our schools and colleges
Virginia is currently funding secondary education on a per pupil, inflation-adjusted basis at levels below funding in 2007. The Governor has requested a billion dollar increase, new teacher positions, teacher pay raises and full funding for “Cost to Compete,” a program that supplements salaries for Northern Virginia school employees.
We are likely to vote on a state constitutional amendment granting the State Board of Education authority to establish charter schools instead of locally-elected school boards. Bills to opening high school athletics to home-schooled children will be at issue again.
Higher education is also starved. Virginia currently funds higher education at 2006 levels and only funds one-third of actual in-state student cost. Tuition rates have risen over 30 percent in the last four years, financial aid demand has skyrocketed and the average Virginia college graduate now has an average of $20,000 in student loan debt. We must make higher education a higher priority.
Governor McAuliffe has proposed a $2.4 billion bond package for new higher education facilities focused on research and workforce development. The package also includes $250 million in modernizations at the Port of Virginia.
A partisan gulf remains on health care, in the shadow of a near shutdown of the government two years ago because the majority refused to accept $2 billion per year in federal Medicaid funds. Virginia still has over 6,000 families waiting for services for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults also called the ID/DD waiver program. If Virginia does not make significant progress on this backlog, we will be subject to court sanctions.
On transportation, we must correct an oversight in our 2013 transportation legislation and place a floor on our regional transportation gas tax dedicated to transit. Due to declining gas prices, millions of dollars have been lost. This shortfall means that Metro maintenance funding is at risk, Prince William County bus service could be cut by 40 percent and Stafford County may drop road-widening projects.
The legislature will also debate tolls on I-66 and changes to fine collection practices in HOT lanes. We will consider many car title lending bills to address the ever-expanding scourge on Route 1. We have targeted several loopholes and will try to restrict the number of lenders in an area and prohibit locating lenders near casinos or military bases.
We are likely to see bills raising contentious social issues, such as making it easier to obtain firearms and concealed weapons permits along with bills to restrict firearm purchases.
Legislation has already been introduced to reauthorize the Confederate flag on vehicle license plates. I also expect to see legislation to allow businesses to refuse business to LGBT families, to limit school boards’ ability to accommodate LGBT students, to restricting refugee resettlement and bills to limit reproductive choice.
On energy, the solar industry will make a major push to put Virginia’s energy laws on an equal footing with neighboring states so that Virginia’s solar industry can operate on an equal playing field. We will address coal ash dumps at power plants. Southwest Virginia legislators have already introduced legislation to thwart President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Finally, Virginia still has over 20 open judgepositions that need funding. Fairfax County has two vacancies and Prince William County is short one. These vacancies impact Northern Virginians’ ability to have important legal matters heard, such as child support, child custody, personal injuries or contract disputes.
And filling a vacant state Supreme Court position is still in dispute with the majority still vowing to remove the first judge from Fairfax County to sit on an appellate court in over 20 years.
Next week, I will focus on my legislative agenda. I look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com.
Virginia State Senator-elect Scott Surovell serves southeastern Fairfax, eastern Prince William, and northern Stafford counties.
Opinion Prince William County needs more economic development, but it doesn’t have to copy Fairfax or Fauquier counties models to get it
Letter to the Editor
Now that this years’ election has concluded and budget season is here, it is time for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to make good on their campaign promises.
At the December 1 Board meeting, Chairman Stewart took the first steps to follow through on his promises to improve the County’s business climate and expand the commercial tax base by announcing the introduction of an aggressive economic development agenda in the coming weeks. What exactly can we hope to expect from the Chairman’s economic development plan?
The Prince William Chamber of Commerce has a few recommendations: First, the county should continue to invest in local transportation infrastructure. Prince William County has invested $1.4 billion in local roads over the past seven years. This is the most significant local investment in the Commonwealth, and justifiably so considering Northern Virginia’s unfortunate reputation for having some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States.
To attract businesses that would normally locate inside the beltway, Prince William County needs to be able to ensure businesses that they will be able to move their goods, services, and workforce efficiently from local roadways to the larger highway system that connects our region to areas like Washington, D.C. and Dulles International Airport.
Secondly, the County must further incentivize small business and continue to reinvent itself as a center for innovation. Aside from traffic congestion, interjurisdictional competition is a tremendous challenge for the county.
Neighboring localities are all competing for the same pool of businesses and offering a variety of “carrots” to encourage entry into their market. Last year, the Board of County Supervisors put forth a plan to gradually increase the number of businesses exempted from paying the Business, Professional, and Occupational Licensing (BPOL) tax over the next five years. Once the plan is fully implemented, nearly 75% of all businesses in the county will be exempt from the tax levied on their gross receipts. That is an impressive statistic for any locality to champion but it should be noted that the types of businesses that are still not exempt from the tax number in the thousands.
By definition, the overwhelming majority of businesses still impacted by this tax are small businesses. The county has the opportunity to brand itself as the small business community as well as a hub for innovation by continuing down the path it started on last year and fully exempting all small businesses.
Finally, the County needs to continue to invest in its own economic development department; especially when it comes to advertising and supporting the type of analytical research necessary to identify new and innovative economic development opportunities. Our region is strategically located between I-66 and I-95 offering easy access to Washington, D.C. and two major airports. It is anchored by George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus and two Northern Virginia Community College campuses which are part of the largest community college system in the country. Our public school system is among the largest in the nation and one of the best in the state.
And finally, the County’s quality of life is outstanding when looking at the cost of living in Northern Virginia. As a community we have gone through something of an identity crisis the past few years as a formerly rural area that has experienced rapid growth. The Prince William region has its own winning brand and does not need to be Fairfax or Fauquier County to be successful.
The business community, represented by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, is looking forward to working alongside the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Our community is poised for incredible economic growth over the next few years if we pursue these types of initiatives.
Brendon Shaw is the Director of Government Relations for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
Letter to the editor
To the Editor:
You recently published a letter to the editor from the chair of the Prince William Democratic Committee regarding Dominion’s request for a water permit modification for Possum Point Power Station that will enable the company to close its coal ash ponds at the facility.
Please know that we are not in the least taken aback by people who are expressing their genuine concern for the protection of waterways and our environment — natural treasures we’ve inherited and are rightfully expected to protect for posterity.
For the record, there are a number of assertions that were expressed in Mr. Wiggins’ letter that beg for factual clarity and context.
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that neither environmental science nor engineering has a political persuasion. They are based on science and facts. Here are the facts about this permit application:
?Coal ash is solid waste under federal law and regulation, not hazardous waste. Dominion did not decide this; President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency did – in December 2014 after completing a comprehensive and exhaustive review.
?The draft permit is designed to protect water quality and to enforce water quality standards, which are designed to protect public health, the environment, and the beneficial uses of the water—fishing and boating for example. There has been a public information meeting and a public hearing already held about this permit. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is analyzing the public comments to decide if any changes to the draft permit are needed.
?Possum Point Power Station has been a good neighbor for decades. In 2003, the coal units at the station were converted to natural gas to reduce air emissions and to improve regional air quality. The plan Dominion has developed to close its ash ponds will ensure that they are closed as quickly as possible. By contrast, ash pond closure in other states will take more than a decade, will involve countless truck trips down local roads and busy highways, and assumes substantial “beneficial reuse” of coal ash that may not materialize. Dominion has a plan to close its coal ash ponds promptly, safely, and permanently, and in an environmentally responsible manner, as required under the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules governing coal ash pond closure.
Finally, it can’t be overstated: Our desire for the health and safety and protection of our environment is in lock step with the concerns that have been expressed by Mr. Wiggins and others. We are committed to closing the Possum Point ash ponds in a responsible manner consistent with a company whose ideals are rooted in environmental stewardship.
Thank you for the opportunity to share the facts about this permit application.
Pamela Faggert is the Chief Environmental Officer/ V.P. Corporate Compliance at Dominion Resources Services
Letter to the editor
Dominion Power has applied for a permit to discharge millions of gallons of toxic waste water into Quantico Creek, a tidal water way that flows in to the Potomac River and eventually in to the Chesapeake Bay.
The toxic waste that Dominion is proposing to discharge comes from unlined coal ash ponds at the Possum Point power plant that are leaking in to ground water and contains fatal to life heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and numerous other toxic and life killing substances.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is the state agency responsible for review and approval of Dominions application and seems inclined to approve a permit that will make Quantico Creek and the discharge area in the Potomac River unusable for recreation, fishing or any human activity for years to come due to the level of toxicity that Dominion is proposing to dump in to the creek.
For example, in coal ash pond D the level of arsenic in the water is nearly 1,000 times the naturally occurring levels found in Quantico Creek. Remarkably, Dominion’s application sets no limits on the amount of toxic and life fatal material that it could discharge in to the Creek.
For the past 50 years Dominion has been contaminating the creek with surreptitious discharges in to the Creek, the Potomac Riverkeepers, a non-profit organization that advocates for a clean Potomac has been monitoring Dominions discharges and have found startling levels of toxic materials being discharged in to the Creek and the Potomac River.
What Dominion is proposing will lead to centuries of a degraded water way.
There is another way, there are viable ways to filter and clean the waste water that Dominion wants to discharge and bring the discharge to levels of toxicity that are found naturally in Quantico Creek. Dominion, however, is choosing the cheapest route: dump millions of gallons of toxic waste water in to the Creek, and just too bad for Prince William County.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently had an “information session” to present an overview of the permit request. My observation of that event that was sparsely attended, due to the failure of DEQ to adequately advertise it, was that DEQ is nothing more than an arm of Dominion.
I would like to commend Senator-elect and current Delegate Scott Surovell, Delegate Luke Torian and Delegate David Bulova for attending the session and calling in to question Dominions flawed proposal. Unfortunately, Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, whose district the proposal impacts the most, was unavailable to attend one of the most pressing issues facing the Potomac Magisterial District.
There will be a Public Hearing on Dominions proposal on Dec. 8, 2016 at 7 p.m. at DEQs Northern Regional Office, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge, VA 22192. If you want to stop Dominion’s plan to poison Prince William County please attend and speak up.
Formal comments are due to DEQ no later than Dec. 14, 2015, both the Potomac Riverkeepers and the Southern Environmental Law Center are working tirelessly to help save Prince William County from Dominions toxic waste attack.
Harry Wiggins is the head of the Prince William County Democratic Committee.
Letter to the editor
At the State Senate annual Finance Retreat two weeks ago, staff updated the State Senate on Virginia’s economy, projected revenues and significant budget issues expected during the 2016 session to begin on January 13. The news is a mixed bag.
First, Virginia’s economy is still struggling. Thanks to the “Sequester,” large, across-the-board, federal budget cuts, federal spending in Virginia is down by 33 percent over just last year. That’s $24 billion fewer dollars coming into the Virginia economy. Not surprisingly, economic growth has been flat statewide. Twelve percent of homes are still short sales due to stagnant home prices and our predicted economic growth for 2016 is about one-third less than the national rate.
Notwithstanding this disappointing news, the state took in about $550 million more than we budgeted in FY 2015. These revenues were mostly generated by income taxes paid by business owners, not employees’ paycheck withholding.
We expect to see a 4.1 percent revenue growth in 2016 driven by employment gains in Northern Virginia and housing construction. Between revenue growth and the funds carried forward from FY 2015, the staff anticipates that there will be about $1.6 billion above the state’s “base budget” to allocate to various needs. This is the first year since I was elected in 2009, that there will be any meaningful money to allocate.
Given Virginia’s budget difficulties over the last six years, many unmet needs should be addressed. First, Virginia’s secondary education funding on an inflation-adjusted, per pupil basis is less than what the state spent in 2007. Most teachers have seen one raise in six years and for many, that raise was consumed by new retirement contribution rules. Fairfax County, and especially Prince William and Stafford Counties, are desperate for additional funds to raise teacher salaries, lower class sizes and upgrade technology.
Second, Virginia’s colleges are struggling. Last year, the legislature appropriated $110 million less to our 14 four-year colleges and 23 community colleges than we did in 2008. These institutions serve 399,000 students. Average tuition and fees have risen from around $4,000 per semester to nearly $8,000 and the state is barely covering half the cost of an in-state student’s education. The state’s contribution was over 62 percent when I attended James Madison University from 1989-1993. Average student debt is up by 35 percent since 2008.
Third, Virginia continues to leave about $2 billion of federal Medicaid dollars on the table. Expanding Medicaid to low-income working adults would free up $180 million of Virginia tax dollars which we could re-appropriate, generate 30,000 new jobs and close Virginia’s coverage gap. This debate nearly caused a state government shutdown two years ago until Senator Phil Puckett resigned.
Fourth, Virginia still has 6,000 families on the waiting list for services to severely disabled children and adults. Virginia’s waiting list is one of the worst in the United States.
The Virginia Port Authority has requested $350 million for capital investments so it can remain competitive with other ports. Three dozen judgeships are vacant and unfunded, including five in the 36th District.
The Republican leadership in the House of Delegates has expressed a preference to “pre-pay” the funds that were not paid into the Virginia Retirement System in FY 2010-2011 to balance our budget. This move was a gimmick when adopted and paying it off is a prudent thing to do, but we have other worthy priorities. Many see this proposal as an opening bargaining step in an anticipated four-month negotiation with Governor Terry McAuliffe.
We also have about $100 billion in needed transportation projects than funds in the pipeline over the next 20 years, including multiple projects in the 36th District along U.S. 1 and I-95. Transportation revenue is especially problematic due to lower gas prices since Virginia changed its tax from a per-gallon tax to a percentage-based tax in 2013.
The bottom line is that our budget situation is the best it has been since 2009, but Virginia continues to lag behind the country and has a lengthy list of very worthy needs. I am tackling these problems and will continue when I join my colleagues in Richmond in January and February for the 2016 General Assembly session.