“Greetings of the Season” to constituents in the 35th Senate District. Following one of the more mild winters in recent memory, we now are the beneficiaries of one of the more aesthetic seasons in the Commonwealth. It is good to be back home after nearly three grueling months in Richmond leading the fight for sound public policy and fiscal responsibility.
On April 5 it was announced that the budget conferees reached a tentative agreement over many items in the state budget. The spending plan will cover the next two fiscal years beginning on July 1, 2012. While many of the concerns of the Senate Democrats have been addressed, there remains one major contentious issue – appropriate funding for transportation. A signature campaign promise of Governor McDonnell was to fix the most pressing problem of our region and potentially that of Virginia’s economy, gridlock in the state’s economic engine. It is no mystery that Northern Virginia is the economic driver of the Commonwealth as well as the worst region of the state when it comes to moving hard working families and commerce within the region.
What’s at stake here in NOVA? Cutting to the chase, the bottom line is adequate and appropriate funding to move badly need projects forward. The Governor recognizes there is a problem. However, his solution is taking a portion of the current sales tax to pay for transportation infrastructure. In my opinion, raiding the General Fund, which covers public education, public safety and health and human services, is not acceptable. Then there is the issue of increasing tolls to offset the cost of projects.
The current rate on the Dulles Toll Road is $2.75 one way from Loudon to Tyson’s Corner. You can do the math for a daily commuter who works in NOVA. While you are at it, factor in the following: the rate is scheduled to increase to $4.50 beginning in 2013 and projected to be at $6.75 in 2018. The purpose of the increase for Northern Virginians is to mitigate the cost of the Metro extension to Dulles. In these same estimates there is a projected 18% reduction in driver use to avoid the hit to their pocket books. Senators Howell, Herring and I along with our delegation, have led the charge for $300M in bonds for this project in order to keep the toll road affordable for working families that make up the staff for the region’s businesses.
Just imagine what an impact an 18% increase of cars will have on Route 7 and other local roads in the region? For years we have heard from local business leaders what the financial impact these tolls have annually on both employees and employers. This is a contributing factor that affects our quality of life and can easily be a deal breaker for attracting entrepreneurs and new business to Northern Virginia. There is also the matter of public safety and the ability for First Responders to handle emergency situations. Make no mistake about it, we take transportation and its ramifications very seriously for any and all of the above reasons.
On April 17 the General Assembly will reconvene for the Special Session. The Legislature will take up the budget conference report. It is still unclear whether that report will be adopted by both the Senate and the House of Delegates. Assuming it is, the Governor will then have his turn at amending it or signing it into law. Should he add amendments, the bill will once again need to be approved by the Legislature. I will keep you informed as we proceed. You may also follow the process by going on line to sfc.virginia.gov (the website to the Senate Finance Committee) and following the appropriate links. The Conference Reports covering the major issues are posted and updated regularly.
I appreciate hearing your concerns on the myriad of issues that have come before the legislature. It is my pleasure and privilege to serve as your leader in the Senate of Virginia.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org