After the high drama that accompanied the end of the regular session of the General Assembly in March, we headed to Richmond wondering whether the one-day veto session would produce more theatrics.
Instead, the day turned out to be rather like one of those Russian plays — long, but not particularly eventful. We went into session at 1 p.m. and finally adjourned at 10 o'clock.
The governor had proposed 83 amendments, about $30 million in all, to the state budget. While I am glad to report that most survived, I was sad that the House rejected amendments that would have added $3.1 million for at-risk students (some of which supports programs in the Route One area) and $325,000 for the Jobs for Virginia Graduates Program, which also serves some Fairfax County students.
Another disappointment for me was the Senate's defeat of amendments that would have added a $5-per-ton tipping fee for trash dumped at landfills. The fee, which would have generated about $76 million per year, would have been devoted to acquiring and preserving open space. It would also have made it less attractive for some large out-of-state waste companies to bring their trash to Virginia landfills. The bill was carried over in the Senate, and I expect we will see it again next year.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY did approve the governor's amendments to Senate Bill 668. These amendments, which were supported by every delegate from Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria, will make possible a Northern Virginia transportation referendum.
What will appear on the ballot Nov. 5? Voters will be asked to authorize raising the sales tax by one-half percent, from four and a half percent to five percent. Over 20 years, a new regional transportation authority would use the annual proceeds from the sales tax increase to fund a variety of projects with $2.2 billion in cash and $2.8 billion in bonds. Projects will include the Metro subway and bus system and public-private road and rail partnerships as well as items on the priority lists of state and local governments. It is important for Northern Virginians to know that all the funds raised by this referendum will stay in Northern Virginia.
Locally, the referendum does provide significant funding for the Route One area. It authorizes $150 million for several improvements along segments of the highway. The additional funds will also support a continued evaluation of mass transit in the Route One corridor.
Mass transit is a major part of the overall referendum. More than 42 percent of the money generated by the sales tax will go for transit ñ upgrading Metrorail, extending rail lines along I-66, and improving transit along Route 1 in Arlington and Alexandria.
Already, both sides in this debate are gearing up for a long, hard fight. That's the American way. Most voters who have contacted my office, whether they support or oppose this referendum, say that they should have a chance to make their voices heard. We in Mount Vernon know that democracy is not a spectator sport — and I expect that many residents will be active on both sides of this issue.
Earlier in the day, the General Assembly had taken time to honor both the families of those lost on Sept. 11 and some of the first responders who worked so heroically on that day. The families of Terry Lynch and Gary Smith were among those who received a special memorial resolution and the personal condolences of Governor Warner, Lieutenant Governor Kaine, and Attorney General Kilgore. Both Sen. Toddy Puller and I also presented resolutions honoring the work of Fairfax County's firefighters.
In the normal course of events, the one-day veto session would mark the formal end of our legislating for the year. But because of the ongoing litigation about the redistricting plan, our year may not be over. Nonetheless, I'm reminded of what Harry Truman said when he returned home after his years in the White House. "I took the suitcases up to the attic," he said, indicating that he intended to stay put for a while. So do I. I will be at Sherwood Hall Library for my monthly office hours on May 11 from 10 a.m. until noon. Or, you can contact me via email at email@example.com or by phone at 703-619-0444.