How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Weekly Column: Surovell Initiatives Moving in the Legislature

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of January 17, 2017.
Several of my bills are moving quickly in the General Assembly’s “short,” 45-day.

First, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed my bill to require the city of Alexandria to expedite its cleanup of its primary raw sewage discharges into the Potomac River after consolidating my bill with Committee Chairman Senator Richard Stuart’s bill. 
Many legislators agree that we cannot tolerate 70 million gallons of untreated sewage pouring into the Potomac River for the next 30 years while the city addresses the rest of what’s called a “combined sewer overflow” system dating from the 1800s.   Water quality is a nonpartisan issue.  I will continue to expedite this legislation with Senator Stuart and Delegate Dave Albo who is carrying similar legislation in the House of Delegates.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Eastern Fairfax County Largely Missing from TJ

Since it opened when I was a freshman at West Potomac H.S., Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology has achieved much academic acclaim by skimming off students from around Northern Virginia.  The success has also attracted corporate grants and additional funding that other schools - especially schools in Eastern Fairfax County - can only dream about obtaining. 

The new admission statistics for Thomas Jefferson High School's Class of 2020 are out and it appears to be more of the same.  The full stats are below, but here are the highlights:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Weekly Column: Senator Surovell Previews 2017 Legislative Agenda

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of January 10, 2017.
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.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sunset to Virginia's Annexation Moratorium in Sight

There has not been much news in Virginia about annexation in a while, but it may come roaring back in the next couple years. 

For example, some of the complaining I've heard from members of Mt. Vernon and Lee Districts over the years about the Route 1 Corridor reminded me that history often repeats itself.

Washington Evening Star Article About Grumpy
22308 Zip Code Residents
Someone recently gave me a Washington Evening Star article from 1965 which I thought was interesting.  Community residents basically felt that Fairfax County was not investing sufficient tax dollars in the Lee-Mt. Vernon part of Fairfax County and wanted to explore joining the City of Alexandria.

Before 1971, there were dozens of cities created in Virginia and annexations.  Due to a series of partial moratoria, studies and finally a "temporary" ban on annexations in 1987, you haven't read much about these lately. 

For example, the City of Manassas was created in 1975.  At the time, the thinking was that Manassas had a large cluster of commercial property and that concentrating commercial and higher density property tax revenues could allow those residents to skim higher generally property tax revenues and focus them on their city instead of subsidizing the rest of the city.

In other areas, annexations had racial overtones with councils annexation portions of communities to "adjust" voting populations to marginalize minority populations (Richmond, Petersburg).  Other cities were created to avoid annexation by neighboring cities (Salem, Suffolk, Chesapeake, & Virginia Beach).

Recently, some cities have begun to discuss reversions - to town status - due to limited tax bases.  A few years ago, the City of Bedford reverted to a town. 

In 1987, Virginia enacted a moratorium on annexations.  Some commentators think this has had numerous consequences as cities with limited tax bases can no longer threaten annexation to leverage infrastructure improvements.  For example, it has supposedly increased regional cooperation although the stagnation at Metro due a lack of funding makes you wonder whether our local governments are capable of collaborating. 

Map Summarizing Harrisonburg Annexations
(Courtesy of City of Harrisonburg)
This article has an excellent summary of the situation.

Apparently, the entire purpose of the moratorium was to buy time to sort out Virginia's ancient and outdated City-County distinctions.  We have made pretty much zero progress on that score and most leaders with knowledge and experience on these issues have moved on. 

The last time the moratorium required extension in 2009, Governor Tim Kaine twice vetoed extensions before the moratorium was extended.

The idea that counties are "rural" and require less taxing authority than cities is nonsensical at this point.  However, local governments merely complaining, but taking absolutely no leadership on any of these issues, it is hard to see a resolution to this any time soon.  Interestingly, January, 2012 article above mentions that it might take a city bankruptcy to force the issue - we might have that opportunity soon. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekly Column: U.S. Supreme Court Should Overturn Partisan Redistricting

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of December 9, 2016.
U.S. Supreme Court Should Overturn Partisan Redistricting
Virginia is represented by Democrats in all five statewide offices, has voted for a Democratic president three times, yet the Virginia House of Delegates has 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats.   

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality and constitutionality of the last redistricting of Virginia House of Delegates’ districts.  The court’s decision could be monumental for all Virginia voters.

If I could fix one thing to make our government work better at every level, I would reform redistricting.  Partisan redistricting abuse has been around since the beginning of American democracy.  The term “gerrymander” originates from an 1812 attempt to draw districts favoring Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry.  To be clear, both parties do it, but in the last two decades, gerrymandering has become especially powerful for a few reasons.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

GMU'S Point of View on Mason Neck

Point of View Looking Up From the River
Last month, I was invited to a community reception at the newly opened Point of View Complex managed by the George Mason Center for Conflict Analysis and Resolution on Mason Neck.  It is a beautiful complex.

As a practicing litigator, I can testify to the growth in methods of alternate dispute resolution.  The practice of mediation and conflict avoidance is really becoming a science and universities across the world are investing significant resources in teaching students alternative methods to resolve conflicts.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Weekly Column: Expand Early Voting in Virginia

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of December 2, 2016.
Expand Early Voting Now in NOVA

The success of early voting in the 2016 Presidential Election reaffirms my conclusion from visiting 12,000 homes last year – Virginia should expand early voting.

In 2016, I personally knocked on over 12,000 doors and after July 1, using an online secure application form, I helped over 900 voters sign up to vote by mail from their home.  Nearly all of them had no idea they could vote early or vote from home.  The vast majority of these voters did not participate in non-presidential elections (or even some presidential elections) because of a disability, lack of transportation, long commutes or disabled family members that required 24-7 home care.   

Saturday, November 26, 2016

National Museum of the Marine Corps

The 36th District has many unique places including two federal parks, three state parks, three national wildlife refuges, and two military bases.  While I have been familiar with Fort Belvoir my entire life, I had only been inside Marine Corps Base Quantico 86 square miles a few times. 

A few months ago, I decided to visit and get a feel for its mission, facilities and get a taste of its history.  Colonel Joseph Murray gave me an excellent guided tour, lunch in a brand new chow hall (that's what they call dining facilities) and his staff encouraged me to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps. The day after Thanksgiving I headed 40 minutes south with the kids to check it out.  It was a fascinating trip.

The museum opened ten years ago in November, 2006 and you have probably seen it rising over the trees as you drive up and down I-95. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekly Column: Vote “Yes” for FCPS Teachers' Salaries

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of October 20, 2016.
Vote “Yes” for FCPS Teachers' Salaries

When you vote on Tuesday, November 8, Fairfax County voters can vote for our schools by voting to allow a four percent tax on prepared restaurant meals.  Of the revenue generated by the tax, 70 percent is required to be dedicated to public schools and 30 percent to other county services, capital improvements and property tax relief.

I support a meals tax because we need to strengthen our schools.  Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) are suffering from underfunding.  While state funds have increased by over 50 percent since the 2009 Great Recession, local funds, which represent 80 percent of our school system's budget, have risen only 20 percent and lagged investments made in Arlington and Alexandria.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Weekly Column: Your 2016 Ballot: Yes for Widows, No for “Right to Work”

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and The Potomac-Stafford Local in the week of September 7, 2016.
Your 2016 Ballot: Yes for Widows, No for “Right to Work”
On November 8, you can vote on two state constitutional amendments that require voter approval, in addition to voting for President and U.S. Congress.  There are also local measures on the ballot in some counties.  
One constitutional amendment is relatively non-controversial and would allow localities to exempt property owned by the widow of a killed-in-action first responder from real estate taxes.  Two years ago, Virginians approved similar treatment for the widows of killed-in-action soldiers.  I support giving our localities this authority and voted “yes."
The second amendment is very controversial and very confusing as written on the ballot.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Early Voting Has Started - Avoid the Lines!

Virtually all voters in Virginia are eligible to vote by mail or vote early in person with a legal reason. 

In 2008, 1 in 5 Fairfax County voters cast their vote before Election Day.

Sign Up Online
You can now apply to vote by mail by using an online form on my website.  It takes only 3 minutes to apply:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

47 New Americans at Gunston Hall

Yesterday, I was honored to attend a naturalization ceremony for forty-seven new United States Citizens at Gunston Hall.  It was both an honor and very interesting.  You can see pictures here.

The citizen candidates hailed from 20 countries.  I have now been to about two dozen countries, but I had only been to four of the countries represented in the ceremony - it was a really interesting mix.  I had expected it to be a different group, but it says a lot to me about who is coming to the U.S. and making up our community.

I pointed out to them that about thirty-percent of all residents of the 36th District are foreign born so they are going to have lots of company! 

I also found the oath they took to be fascinating.  I had never heard that oath administered before, and it was a fresh reminder to me of our fundamental obligations as citizens of the United States.  Natural born citizens are never required to take any oath.  This made me think about how all of us should be reminded of our responsibilities.  Here is the text.
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