How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Legacy of Debt, Part II: The Election of 1877 & The Rise of the Readjusters

This is the second article in a series to provide historical context to the rationale of Virginia’s debt limit and tradition of pay-as-you-go.

In the prior article, A Legacy of Debt, Part I: Readjusters & Funders, I wrote about how the interest owed on Virginia’s Civil War Debt had completely hobbled the state’s ability to launch any new programs such as public schools, roads, or any kind of safety net after the Civil War. Debate in Virginia was dominated by the Conservative Party (also called “Funders” or “Bourbons”) who believed that Virginia’s “honor” required payment of the debt and more progressive elements who believed that the Legislature should force a “readjustment” of the debt (called “Readjusters”).

At the conclusion of Governor Kemper's term the Conservative Party rallied behind Stonewall Brigade veteran and Conservative F.W. Holliday who was elected in 1877. Holliday was unambiguously a Conservative "Funder" politician. Notwithstanding Holliday's clear position, a majority of legislators were elected who favored readjustment of debts comprised of “Independent” Conservatives and Republicans.

Shortly after the session started, Governor Holliday vetoed new legislation that prioritized public school transfers over the payment of debt interest. Conservatives attacked this legislation claiming public education was “socialist,” “unjust,” “taught children to look to the state for support throughout life," characterized debt readjustment as "communism" and said they were ready to shut down schools to honor the state's debt obligations. Holliday pointed out that his forebearers did not need public education to achieve success.

By 1879, with the Governor opposing any kind of reform and bond interest continuing to exceed revenues, the situation became ugly – the state’s school transfer payments went further into default, half of of Virginia's limited public schools closed, salaries of state employees were suspended, and the state began borrowing money to fund government.

That year, the Confederate hero of the Battle of the Crater, General William Mahone (click here for a short bio by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities), called a convention to form a new political party who named themselves the Readjuster Party. The Readjuster Party was a coalition of freed blacks and poor whites and its focus was Virginia's debt. They were extremely popular in Southwestern Virginia and with Virginia's relatively sizeable African-American population - 40 counties were majority black after the Civil War.

The 5'5" William Mahone became the Readjuster's chief spokesman. In 1879, Virginians sent 56 Readjusters to the House of Delegates and 24 to the State Senate. Mahone was elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate (before direct election of U.S. Senators) and caucused with Republicans giving them a majority in the U.S. Senate. Legislation readjusting the state debt yet again was promptly vetoed by Governor Holliday.

In 1881, Virginia elected a Readjuster Governor, William Cameron from Petersburg and Virginia moved into a progressive era. Cameron immediately signed legislation issuing new bonds cutting interest in half to 3%, rebuked a presumed share of the debt owed by West Virginia, wrote off bonds issued to cover interest accrued during the Civil War & Reconstruction, and prohibited bond interest coupons from being used for tax payments. The new bonds were named for the legislation’s sponsor and called “Riddlebergers.” Virginia's schools reopened. The tax code was reformed in favor of farmers and small businesses and against the railroads. Virginia spent more on hospitals, jails, and its few colleges. He also started the Virginia Oyster War of 1882 which is an interesting short story.

Litigation immediately ensued over the legality of “readjustment” and continued for decades.

In 1879, future-Delegate Richard Evelyn Byrd of Winchester turned 19. He personally witnessed the Conservative-Funder-Mahone debt struggle during a critical formative time in his life. Byrd went on to serve as Virginia's 40th Speaker from 1908-1914. His namesake became a famed naval aviator. His younger son had a career in apple farming, newspaper editing, turnpike management, and changing Virginia history. More on that later.

The next article will discuss the Readjusters conversion to the Republican Party, their fall, and the Conservatives return to power to "redeem" Virginia from "Mahoneism."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

General Assembly Commendation for New Hope & Rising Hope

Below is an article that ran in the Mount Vernon Voice regarding a commendation I presented to New Hope Housing and Rising Hope Methodist Church for the work they did during Snowmageddon to get people off the streets and into a hypothermia shelter on U.S. 1.

VIC HOP Opening General Assembly Commendation

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays & New Year From the Surovells!


7 Days in Peru - The Inca, Mountains, & Pisco Sours

If you've been wondering why things were a bit quiet here - I was out of the country from December 12-19 in Peru. It was an interesting trip. (CLICK on any of the pictures below to blow them up)



View Larger Map
Peru sits on the Pacific Coast just south of Ecuador, west of Brazil and Bolivia, and north of Chile. The country is dominated by the Andes Mountains and ranges in terrain from coastal plain, desert, alpine, and tropical rain forest. Although it is on the equator, the elevated terrain and influence of the southern Pacific current hold the temperature way down. And no, I also discovered that the coriolis effect does not cause the water to spin clockwise in the toilet.


We flew into Lima and then in to the City of Cusco which is approximately 3,000,000 people, 11,000 feet above sea level, and being the former Capital of the Inca Empire is the launching point for all things Inca. There's a picture of the Cusco Airport to the left.



After spending a day getting used to the altitude and recovering from 24 hours of air travel, we checked out the ruins in the Sacred Valley 13,000 feet up at Pisaq (right) and then back towards Cusco at Puca Pucara, Quenco, Tambomachay, and the former fortress of Sacsayhuaman (zoom in on the map and look for gray splotches and ruin symbols). The next day, we road the super fancy Hiram-Bingam Train down into Machu Picchu at 8,500 feet and spent two days exploring there. I climbed Wayanpicchu and up to Intipuku (the Sun Gate), we explored the city, and basically wandered around dumbfounded for two days, and then went back to Cusco for the duration.

There's too much to write about in one column. But here's a few thoughts.

First, Peruvians are awesome. Peru was a very welcoming place. There's no question that Peru is a Third World Country. The vast bulk of Peruvians do not have a car, internet, or a computer. But they are a happy people, proud of their cultural heritage and their history.

The Inca were simply amazing. The Inca could move 120-ton rocks without wheels and erect them into extremely precise structures that still stand today without mortars and have survived earthquakes in one of the most active fault zones in the world. If you look at intricacy of the polygonal stonework they create, their abilities were simply mind boggling given the technology they possessed.

The food we had everywhere was awesome. One day, we wandered off out of the tourist area and at lunch at a restaurant in "downtown" Cusco. We were fed a four-course meal with a soup, appetizer, and two main courses for 8 soles or about $3. I rediscovered Quinoa, dried corn & beans, and the Peruvians really like their soups. Peruvian beers are great - Cuscena, Pilsen, Cristal, and of course Chicha, the traditional Peruvian beer. I also had my fair share of Pisco sours which if you've never experienced is a must, and coca tea and coca products are served everywhere.

My brother got to know the bartender, Carlos, at our hotel who invited us to spend an afternoon having lunch with him and his family. Outside of Lima, learning english is one of the keys to earning a decent living in Peru. Carlos and his family were all very curious about America and eager to see our country, but it was also apparent that even visiting the United States is out of reach for all but the rich in a country like Peru.

Inca traditions are proudly carried forward today by Peruvians and the clothing is dominated by all things Alpaca - a North American form of camel. I have never seen so many hats, gloves, bags, rugs, masks, scarves, etc. You can outfit an entire family at a Peruvian market with about a months's worth of clothes for about $200.

My visit to the Inca markets was eye opening. You are first greeting by entire pig's bodies splayed open and various animal parts and organs. If you want a slice, they whip out the saw and saw off a chunk for you. There were piles of vegetables, spices, beans, & corn everywhere. Rows and rows of ignots of chocoloate were laid out. Women were working on clothing with old school Singer sewing machines nonstop. As you walk, everyone says "Amigo, tienes un precio especial para tu" (Friend, I have a special price for you) - of course, NOTHING has a price tag on it in Peru.



Lastly, I can't finish this without saying something about Machu Picchu. I took this trip with my brother, sister, sister in-law, and my father because my dad has always wanted to see Machu Picchu. I can't begin to explain how profoundly unique and incredible Machu Picchu is. The ruins sit on a "penninsula" of a mountain, surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba River 2,000 feet down. You are surrounded by mountains 3,000 to 4,000 feet above you on all sides. You are surrounded by sounds of rushing water at all times. It is a cathedral of nature.

The point of the penninsula has a steep mountain called Wayanpicchu. When I saw that it had a "trail," of course, I had to climb it. The "trail" is basically a series of switchbacks that end at a staircase which pretty much goes straight up - it's also not up to code - no railing, even stair height or grip strips. On top of this mountain, the Inca built a guardhouse, terraces for growing food and facilities. It was just incredible.

The Inca basically carved off the top of the mountain and built a fortified city on top with terraces running down cliffs to the river for growing food. It was "discovered" by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911 after a child led his him up a staircase. The City lies at the end of The Inca Trail which is a stone road that runs from Cusco. Many people spend 4 days backpacking up and through the Intipuku - the Sun Gate - which frames the sun into Machu Picchu's Sun Temple on the Winter Solstice.

If you ever have a chance to go to Peru - GO.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Legacy of Virginia Debt: Part I - Readjusters & Funders

After a Governor's Fellowship piqued my interest in Virginia History, I read a book called From Virginia Boubonism to Byrd, 1870-1925 by Allen W. Moger which opened my eyes to a lot of state history. As the General Assembly continues to debate the merits of increasing the state's debt load, I thought it might be useful to revisit the history of why Virginia's debt limits exist. Today, most people don't have any historical understanding as to why these limits came into existence.

Prior to the Civil War, the Commonwealth had purchased stock in companies owning several turnpike, toll bridge, canal, and water and rail transportation improvements (click here for 1848 VA Internal Improvement Map). These improvements were financed using debt instead of cash which is the more modern practice.

After the Civil War, much of the improvements in Virginia were destroyed. The improvements in West Virginia were fine, but West Virginia's share of the debt was in dispute. The debt was owned by Yankee and British investors.

Many of the early post-Reconstruction legislative battles were driven by this debt and satisfaction the debt which amounted to $45 million in 1870 which at that time was a massive amount of money.

During Reconstruction, Virginia's government had been controlled by freed slaves and poor whites, largely due to the disenfranchisement of Confederate veterans. As Reconstruction closed, Confederates were enfranchised and the Democratic Party's predecessor, the Conservative Party was formed in reaction to governance by freed slaves and increased suffrage among poorer whites.

In terms of Virginia's debt, the Conservatives were focused on preserving Virginia's honor, moral obligation, and good name. Also known as "Funders," they were white, institutional and wealthy. They became known as the "Funders" and ulimately most affiliated with this group became Democrats.

The new Constitution of 1870 had called for the state to fund a public education system for hte first time, but the debt situation was utterly crippling. After the Conservatives wrested control of government in 1873, they recapitalized Virginia's debt with new bonds at 6% interest with redeemable coupons. The coupons could be used to "pay" taxes.

At the time, Virginia's taxes were actually higher than in New England because of this debt. Before Virginia had an income tax, sales tax or gas tax, and before real estate taxes were reserved to localties, Virginia's government was largely funded with real estate taxes. In 1870, Virginia's real estate tax of $0.50 per $100 of value was 35% more than the average real estate tax in the northern states and 50% higher than Pennsylvania, New York, and the six New England states.

The budget situation grew so bad that in 1875, the Commonwealth had $1 million less revenue than its debt interest payments alone. Part of this was caused because wealthier Virginians could buy the bond coupons from investors at a discounted price and then pay their taxes using the face value of the bond coupons.

In 1879, the Commonwealth even deliberately refused to make mandatory payments for free public schools because it preferred debt payments over other obligations. Pickett's Charge hero Governor Kemper (left) resented this legacy and tried his best to convince the General Assembly to reform the tax structure to no avail.

The initial opposition to the Conservatives were the Republican Party.
Eventually, the more liberal elements of the state became more organized in large part to the debt issue and were focused on readjusting the debt. They became known as "Readjusters" and ultimately became Republicans in the 1880's.

The Readjusters were generally poorer, less educated, more diverse and felt that the Commonwealth had been destroyed by war, should not rebuild and pay this debt, and also wanted to maximize West Virginia's share. African Americans felt it was not their debt to pay given that they were enslaved when it was incurred. The Readjusters were led by former Confederal General William Mahone whose picture is to the right. The western part of the state leaned Readjuster while the relatively more affluent eastern Tidewater leaned Conservative/Funder.

One of the primary motives of the Readjusters in minimizing the Commonwealth's debt obligations was their interest in focusing limited government revenues on public education and improved social services to improve the condition of Virginia's poor.

Next: The Legacy of Debt, Part II: The Election of 1877 & Rise of the Readjusters.

Who Were the Readjusters

Wikipedia: Readjuster Party

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mt Vernon Multiplex Auction: A Depressing Video

Lots of memories in this place, but better something new than an empty property.

Monday, December 6, 2010

NVTA Highlights Transportation Funding Challenges

Last week, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance gave a briefing on the challenges facing Virginia's current transportation system. Their briefing is below.


Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance Presentation Regarding Challenges for Financing Virginia's Transp...

My law partner, Senator Chap Petersen, summarized it with some stats on his blog a few days ago.

The bottom line is that our transportation system is suffering from two decades of neglect. Significant revenues intended for construction are being siphoned off for maintenance and our federal highway matching funds will be endangered in the near future. Our current Six-Year Improvement Plan budget is actually less than (-$2.8B) our 2001 Six-Year Improvement Plan budget.

It's a depressing briefing. The position we are in today, is effectively like being asked to save for your child's college education in about 2 years instead of over the child's 18 year-lifetime leading up to college.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2011 Budget Preview: Rising Debt & Budget Cuts

The Senate Finance Committee held a retreat a few weeks ago regarding the current budget situation. You can read the briefings here.


The bottom line is that while the economy and tax revenue have improved, revenue is still below budgeted projections which means the state budget must be cut the budget again. The Senate Finance Commitee is projecting about $200 million in cuts.

This year's budgeted General Fund revenues are projected to be slightly above collections from five years ago - 2005. We are still in a weak economy.

Moving into FY 2012, things are not likely to get markedly better given that the current budget holes were plugged using substantial amounts of federal stimulus funding such as the recent receipt of $200 million of Federal Medicaid monies.

The Senate Finance Committee also pointed out that the three largest debt authorizations in the history of the Commonwealth have occured since 2007. Debt service is now the sixth largest program in the General Fund behind Public Education, Medicaid, Higher Education, Adult & Juvenile Corrections and the Car Tax Repeal. The use of debt has been driven by lagging General Fund and transportation revenues. The General Assembly also authorized an additional $1.3 billion of debt, but because of lagging revenue growth, the Commonwealth is prohibited by statute from issuing the debt due to statutory debt limits. The purpose of the cap is to ensure Virginia's AAA bond rating which keeps interest rates down and is a fiscally conservative policy.

The trends are troubling. Last session, about $300 million of our $2 billion budget hole were closed with "revenue adjustments" which have now proven to have been overly optimistic (wrong). Last year's budget hole was also plugged using a number of gimmicks including deferring over $600 million of retirement fund contributions - one of many reasons I voted "no" on the final budget.

We can only continue to avoid dealing with reality for so long. Virginia faces significant structural imbalances in its General Fund and Transportation Trust Fund. Until something is done to address these problems, Virginia's residents should not expect to see significant improvements to education, improved affordability higher education, or any relief to transportation gridlock.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rye Back on Sale at Mount Vernon

Today, I swung by the Mount Vernon Estate and picked up four bottles of their new line of Rye (Whiskey) made at their new distillery. The bottles are individually numbered and sell for $99/ea. When I left there were still about 300 left. Last year, they sold out in 3 hours.

I haven't tried it, but if I did, my comments would be "tastes like whiskey." Here's a review of the stuff by Dowd on Drinks who knows more about whiskey tasting:

Remarkable color for something only in the wood for a year. ... Obviously, the
maturation process had been sped up by using small, 10-gallon casks which
surround the raw whiskey with very accessible oak. ... Fine nose, promising
spiciness and herbal nuances. ... Much of the expected initial heat usually
present in young whiskey was missing, leaving a warm yet palatable initial
taste, along with the expected spice from the rye grain, and a satisfactory
finish. ... All in all, a definitely promising young whiskey that I'd love to
re-taste a year or two from now.
The Estate was able to manufacture and sell the whiskey on premises (instead of an ABC store) due to legislation shepherded through by Mount Vernon Senator Toddy Puller in 2008.

George Washington was formerly in the rye business and the estate has taken his original recipe and started manufacturing it again in Mount Vernon's replica 18th Century Distillery - the only one of its kind in the United States. The original recipe was 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. You can see part of the newly reconstructed distillery in this picture I took of the Grist Mill and Dogue Creek last year.

Here's more info from an article published on Yahoo:

The distillery was set up in the cooperage, which provided the barrels for the whiskey. Washington was so pleased with the results of this new venture that a new stone building was constructed to house five stills. The efficient farm used the waste products to feed hogs and cattle kept nearby. The first Mount Vernon rye whiskey was used locally, but was also shipped to other communities near and far. The businessman in Washington must have been very pleased with the 11,000 gallons of whiskey which returned a profit of $7500, a substantial sum in 1799.

His heirs let it deteriorate and fail. The death of George Washington in 1799 brought this venture to a close. If he had lived longer, or had more successful descendants, the country might have been drinking George's whiskey throughout its history. When he died, the distillery and gristmill were left to his step-granddaughter and her husband, but they were not equal to the
business sense of the clever Washington. The property was allowed to deteriorate, and the very successful financial venture of distilling whiskey failed.
Mount Vernon is the largest tourist attraction in Virginia with over 1,000,000 visitors per year. It is also one of the largest private employers in the 44th District with over 400 employees.

Friday, November 26, 2010

DOT Rejects Tiger II Grant for U.S. 1 Transit Study

All significant improvements to U.S. 1 must be approved by the federal government. Before any significant widening of U.S. 1 can occur, a Centerline Study must be completed and because the future configuration of U.S. 1 includes transit (dedicated bus lanes, light rail and/or Metro), a transit study must be done before the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) will approve a centerline configuration.

This past fall, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) issued the new U.S. Centerline Study for all of U.S. 1 from Fredericksburg to Washington, D.C. but excluded the section of U.S. 1 from Woodlawn to Old Town because no transit study was funded. I consider the funding of this transit study to be the number one transportation priority for the Mount Vernon community today. Until this is done, design work for U.S. 1 widening cannot even get funded, nor can U.S. 1 get on to VDOT's twelve-year plan.

This Spring, I contacted Congressmen Moran and Connolly regarding funding the transit study as part of the BRAC process and they suggested that we seek funding through the second round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants - also called TIGER II - through the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

This summer, Fairfax County submitted a TIGER II application that included a request for $1 million for the U.S. 1 transit study. On October 20, 2010, the USDOT announced its grant awards and zero projects were funded in Virginia.

In the meantime, I have been lobbying VDOT and Virginia Transportation Secretary Connaughton to fund this transit study either through the $1 billion VDOT recently identified that was available for projects or through normal processes. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also requested that the U.S. 1 Transit Study be funded from the $1 billion as well. I also intend to introduce a Budget Amendment this session for an earmark. My letter to Secretary Connaughton is below along with his response.

Congestion on U.S. 1 is completely unacceptable and will only continue to get worse over the next 20 years.

Letter to Sec. Connaughton Regarding Funding of U.S. 1 Transit Study

Letter From Sec. Connaugton 11-19-10 Re: U.S. 1 Transit Study

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Costco & U.S. 1 Transportation

Change may be coming to the most congested part of U.S. 1 within the 44th District, but it is not in the form of traffic relief.

Costco is proposing a 143,000 SF store at the old Multiplex site on U.S. 1. According to the analysis, U.S. 1 currently handles about 60,000 vehicles per day. The store is expected to add about 4,500 trips per day to the intersections surrounding that property.

While having a Costco in the district will be much more convenient for the residents of the 44th District, will bring some jobs, and clean up a blighted property, there is going to be a trade off in the form of significantly increased traffic in an existing congested location.

I am concerned about the impact this will have on long-term traffic flow on U.S. 1, Sherwood Hall Lane, and Mount Vernon Highway. I am looking for feedback.

The U.S. Army's studies (See Figures D-8 & D-9) have predicted the BRAC improvements are predicted to add at least an additional 1,000 vehicle trips per day to U.S. 1 north of Fort Belvoir. Traffic volumes on U.S. 1 are also expected to grow over time.

There are no plans to fund any significant improvements or widening this stretch of U.S. 1 in the near decade. Costco is proposing the following improvements.
  • Modification of the signal timing splits at the Richmond Highway/Ladson Lane intersection to provide additional green time for heavier turn movements.
  • Modification of the signal timing splits at the Richmond Highway/Sherwood Hall Lane/Wal-Mart Driveway intersection.
  • Modification of the signal timing splits at the Richmond Highway/Buckman Road/Mount
    Vernon Highway intersection.
  • Construction of an exclusive southbound right-turn lane at the Richmond Highway/Ladson Lane intersection.
  • Construction of an exclusive westbound right-turn lane at the Ladson Lane/Site Entrance intersection.
  • Closure of the existing median break at the intersection of Richmond Highway and entrance to the Spring Garden Apartments.
  • Extension of the existing northbound leftturn lane at the intersection of Richmond Highway/Sherwood Hall Lane/Wal-Mart Driveway intersection to approximately 625
    feet.

An in depth discussion and analysis of this proposal along with maps, including the 300+ pages of appendices and VDOT's response to the analysis is available on VDOT's website. The important documents are here:

Costco's Transportation Analysis Impact Study

VDOT Website: Costco Land Track Submission Details

Please provide me with your comments in the form below or CLICK HERE. All comments provided will be forwarded to Supervisor Hyland, McKay, Bulova and Costco.

CLICK HERE IF PROBLEMS VIEWING CONSTITUENT FEEDBACK FORM

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Plastic Bags & Mt. Vernon's Watersheds **UPDATED**

Quander Brook runs from Beacon Hill and parallel's U.S. 1 near Belle Haven where it empties into Great Hunting Creek near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. During my campaign and during a trash cleanup I sponsored last Spring (See, The Dixie Pig, Cleaning Up Quander Brook), I was astonished by the number of plastic bags that were in Quander Creek.

They get caught on fallen limbs and tree roots and creating "trash dams" in the creeks themselves. Plastic bags make up much of the trash in Paul Spring, Little Hunting Creek, and Dogue Creek all of which run through the 44th District which has U.S. 1's and its retail outlets running through nearly all of its watersheds. This picture to the left is a plastic bag in the culvert next to 7-11 behind Hollin Hall Shopping Center that feeds into Paul Spring Branch.

In 2009, the District of Columbia enacted a $.05 per bag tax on plastic bags to help clean up the Anacostia & Potomac Rivers. Plastic bag consumption dropped from 22.5 million bags to 3 million bags per month and generated $150,000 to help clean up the Anacostia River.

These bags were banned in China in 2009 saving that country 40 billion bags or 37 million barels of crude oil. Last month, Los Angeles County adopted a plastic bag ban and required retailers to sell paper bags for $0.10 each.

Aside from creating trash, plastic bags harm aquatic turtles and sea turtles that mistake them for jellyfish. They take up landfill waste. They are incredibly expensive to recycle.

Last session, Delegate Adam Ebbin introduced legislation mandating a $0.05 per plastic and paper bag tax on plastic bags in Virginia to raised funds for the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund. The legislation failed in committee.

I am curious what Mount Vernon's residents think about solutions to this problem and I have included a survey below.

***UPDATED***
The Roanoke Times ran an editorial regarding movement in the City of Roanoke to request local authority to tax plastic shopping bags. The editorial can be read here.

CLICK HERE IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS VIEWING THE SURVEY

Saturday, November 6, 2010

VRS Sounds the Alarm

Last session, the State Budget was balanced in-part by the State deferring about $690 million of retirement contributions and promising to pay them back over the next 10 years. At the time, we were told that stock market gains had filled the Virginia Retirement Systems' coffers and that we could afford to do this.

Localities were also given the same option and many local governments who use VRS - such as Fairfax County Public Schools - did the same thing. It balanced the budget, but it mortgaged the future.

I voted against the Budget for many reasons, including this strategy and I wrote about it extensively at the time we passed the budget.


This move would be the same as deciding not to contribute to your 401K for one year and making your contribution in the future. This kind of move is not fiscally conservative or prudent. It is risky. I also did not think that the writers of the Constitution of Virginia would think that a budget was balanced if you used a gimmick like this - from my point of view, this was de facto borrowing which is prohibited in Virginia.

The Pew Center on the States has also estimated that state pension funds across the United States are underfunded by $1 Trillion. They list Virginia as underfunded by $10.4 billion (before this year's actions). For some perspective, $10.5 billion is one-third of Virginia's two-year General Fund Budget.

Two weeks ago, the Trustees of VRS sounded the alarm:

The retirement system's board of trustees vented its frustration yesterday over the state's repeated failure to pay the full contribution needed to fund long-term obligations fully for future retirees.

In the budget year that ended June 30, the system paid $1.5 billion more in benefits to retirees than it received in contributions, and the gap is expected to grow to $2 billion this year.

Investment income has more than compensated for the difference, but VRS officials say the failure to pay recommended payroll rates for pensions raises concerns about the system's viability.

"It's incumbent on this board to make clear the funded status of this fund is in serious jeopardy," said Edward T. Burton III, a University of Virginia economics professor who has served on the board since 1994.

This is not a year when the board recommends contribution rates to the General Assembly for state employee and teacher pensions. However, rates would have to increase by more than 60 percent over last year's rates to fund long-term retirement obligations fully, according to an actuarial analysis presented to the board yesterday.

The rates would have to increase by more than 150 percent from those adopted by the General Assembly for this fiscal year.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch penned an editorial today seconding this problem.

There are many folks on the other side of the aisle from me who are also concerned about this and believe we need to repay the "borrowed" money as soon as possible. This entire exercise is symptomatic of our present collective failure to deal with difficult political problems head on. We have responsibilities whether they are pensions, transit, roads, school facilities, higher education, or secondary education that we are not meeting. The Federal Government is likewise spending money it doesn't have.

We can only put off reality so long. It will be interesting to see if anything happens or whether our VRS deficiency ends up consuming the budget.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Election Day: November 2, 2010

Tomorrow is Election Day and you need to make you get out to vote. If you do not know where to vote, you can find your polling place here.



I live in Hollin Hall Precinct and I intend to vote for my current Congressman, Congressman Jim Moran. I have personally known Jim since he was first elected in 1990. Since then he has worked tirelessly to represent the interest of our district. He has helped secure millions of dollars for transportation improvements including:
  • The Woodrow Wilson Bridge reconstruction;
  • Stimulus dollars to complete the Fairfax County Parkway;
  • Millions to fund the Richmond Highway Express (REX) Bus on U.S. 1;
  • Millions to recondition the George Washington Memorial Bike Trial; and
  • He is currently on the cusp of securing $150 million to widen U.S. 1 south of Woodlawn which I have blogged about extensively on this blog.
He has fought the Army to appropriately help us deal with the consequences of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), and has been an effective voice on dozens of other issues.


My district also includes six precincts in the Eleventh Congressional District. If I lived there I would vote for Congressman Gerry Connolly. He keenly understands Northern Virginia's people and its economy and has been one of the most effective members of the freshman class of which he was elected president. Both Jim and Gerry are true partners for Mount Vernon who understand the importance of working together to obtain real results for Mount Vernon's residents.

There are also three Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. I will be voting yes on all three.

Question #1
Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize legislation that will permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief for homeowners not less than 65 years of age or permanently and totally disabled?


Localities throughout Virginia can currently be allowed by the General Assembly to grant full or partial exemptions from real estate taxes to persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled if those persons "are deemed by the General Assembly to be bearing an extraordinary tax burden." The proposed amendment would instead allow cities, counties and towns to make the determination of who qualifies for such exemptions.

I supported this legislation and I will also be voting in favor of this amendment. Virginia is a diverse place, high property taxes are significant concern for many Mount Vernon seniors and I support measures to provide relief to seniors with limited income and assets from higher taxes who never anticpated having to spend $7,000+ in taxes per year to live in a house in Mt. Vernon that originally cost $30,000.

Question #2
Shall the Constitution be amended to require the General Assembly to provide a real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability?

This amendment was introduced by Senator Toddy Puller. Virginia has a large population of military veterans- many in Mt. Vernon and Northern Virginia. In the past 9 years, we've seen many service men and women returning home with lifelong injuries and disabilities suffered in the line of duty. Out of respect and gratitude for their service, it seems only fair that accommodations be made for them. Senator Puller introduced this amendment to require the General Assembly to pass a law exempting disabled veterans from real property taxes. I support this amendment.

Question #3
Shall Section 8 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to increase the permissible size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the "rainy day fund") from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth's average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years?

After seeing how the budget process works in the worst budget cycle in 70 years and the consequences of having an inadequate Rainy Day Fund, I was more convinced than ever that we needed to take steps to improve our Rainy Day Fund. I was the only cosponsor of this Constitutional Amendment in the House of Delegates in addition to its sponsor, Delegate John O'Bannon. On the Senate side, the legislation was sponsored by Senator George Barker.

Just as it is important to keep a "rainy day fund" at home, I strongly believe that we need to pass this amendment so that the Commonwealth can accumulate proper cash reserves in event of a significant economic downturn.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2011 Young Leaders Program

This year, I will sponsor my first Young Leaders Program. Former Delegate Kris Amundson began this program in partnership with Cox Communications as an opportunity for selected high school juniors and seniors who demonstrate high potential in leadership to learn about legislative and public service careers through a job shadow experience.

The primary event will take place in Richmond during the 2011 legislative session. Students will come to Richmond for 3 days- January 30th-February 1st- and observe the General Assembly. They will also meet with leaders in state government. The program is an excellent chance for students to learn how state government works first-hand.

Each student will also complete an individual study project, focusing on an aspect of the Commonwealth's government that they choose. After the legislative session, students will present their projects and we may even find a way to make the projects available to the community. Cox Communications may interview students about their experience.

The program will be open to juniors and seniors who live in (or attend a school in) the 44th District. We will be working with several sponsors so that there will be no cost for the students.

Delegate Amundson created this program in 2000 and many Mount Vernon area high school students have participated. I'm excited to continue the program and I'm looking forward to meeting some of the 44th's best and brightest young leaders.


If you'd like a hard copy, please contact my office at 571.249.4484. Applications are due no later than December 20, 2010. Students selected for the Young Leaders Program will be notified during the first week of January.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grey Goose v. Bowman's Virginia Vodka

As part of his ABC Privatization Plan, Governor McDonnell has proposed a $17.50 per gallon excise tax on alcohol to make up for the existing excise tax and wholesale markup that presently generates over $300 million per year to taxpayers.

When I first heard that proposed tax was done on a per gallon basis, I had to think a minute because we presently tax gasoline on a per gallon basis. Levying the tax as pennies per gallon instead of a percentage of cost is partly why we no longer have the revenue to sustain our road network. Taxing liquids on a per gallon basis requires consumption to increase to sustain revenue increases. However, if you tax liquids as a percentage of price, the natural inflation of prices increases your revenue along with consumption.

At our Town Hall Meeting the other night, Senator Puller pointed out that another side effect of converting our existing excise tax into a per gallon tax is that is have regressive effects.

For example, I hopped on Google and noted that I could by a 1/5th (750ml) of Grey Goose Vodka for $29.00 from a store in California. I can buy a 1/5th (750 ml) of good ol' Virginia Bowman's Vodka (formerly made in Fairfax County, VA (Reston or Sunset Hills for you history junkies like me) for $5.99 in Chester, NJ. For whatever it's worth, they cost $33.90 and $7.20 at the Virginia ABC store.

Under the Governor's proposed exise tax consumers would pay a $3.50 tax on both bottles (750ML = 0.20 Gal. x $17.50 = $3.50). In other words, the tax on Bowman's Vodka would be more than half of the cost of the bottle, but the tax on the Grey Goose would be about 10%.

If the tax were levied as a percentage - say for example 20% - then the Bowman's drinker would pay a tax of $1.20 in taxes and the Grey Goose drinker would pay $5.80 in taxes for the same quantity of alcohol.

One more thing to think about in this ABC privatization debate. You can also read my column with other questions by clicking here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

100 Miles to the Ocean

Yesterday, I rode my bike in the Seagull Century from Salisbury, MD to Assateague Island and back.

After I graduated from law school in 1996, I was looking for something interesting to do so I rode a bike from Astoria, Oregon to Virginia Beach in 46 days. It got me addicted to road riding. Today, it's hard to make time for it with work, kids, etc., but I like to ride down to Mount Vernon and around Ft. Belvoir to Mason Neck when I spin off some serious miles around the neighborhood.

Otherwise, I have two rides I try to do every year, Schroon Lake, NY to Lake Placid, NY and the the Seagull. Lately, life (kids being born, political campaigns, etc.) have been getting in the way, but luckily things lined up yesterday and I was able to go.

It's an interesting race on a number of levels. For one, it's a change of scenery from Northern Virginia. It's just like Tidewater Virginia - dead flat. You get some tiny contours riding - the streams and rivers are pretty much just trench depressions filled with still water. The biggest hill is the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway (picture on the left).

People come from all around and various charities to ride. I ran into two constituents (Tom Curcio and Ed Farino from Waynewood). There are three Fairfax County Judges who are regular riders (Tom Gallahue, Dennis Smith, and Jane Roush), plus a slew of other Fairfax lawyers. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia are all thoroughly represented. People are decked out in corporate logos, college jerseys, sports teams, you name it.

There were groups representing all ethnicities - I saw the "Team Vietvelo" and a number of groups dedicated to the memory of Major Taylor - a black cyclist from the turn of the Century who was frequently prohibited from competing for racial reasons. There's even a group of over the hill Northern Virginian's from my district who go by the moniker - "Team Lardbutt."

IN terms of the scenery, 95% of the ride is through fields of soybeans, sorghum, and corn interrupted by forests. Aside from a few blocks of the Salisbury "suburbs," the picturesque Town of Berlin and a few others, it's almost entirely rural.

There are chicken houses everywhere. If it's hot when we ride, you smell them everywhere because the venilation fans kick in.

As you ride into Assateague Island, we usually see the ponies. This year, I tried to take a picture with one and I was threatened with a citation by a Park Policeman (he was next to the bike path and I didn't realize you couldn't touch him).

The ride is put on by the Salisbury State University Bicycle Club. They started the event in 1989 and today's it's grown to over 7,500 riders. They've donated over $110,000 to their local Habitat for Humanity chapter and as you can imagine, bringing 7,500 people into one place has a significant impact on local commerce - e.g. if each person spends an average $100 on the race, food, hotels, etc. that equals $750,000 of impact alone - the race probably has over $1,000,000 of impact per year. In terms of economic development, it's a no brainer.

This year, I averaged about 21 MPH through the first thirty miles. Then, my body reminded me that I was 39. At the end, my time was up to 5 Hours, 42 minutes or an average of about 17.8 MPH. Back when I was about 10 lbs lighter and 15 years younger, I could do it in under 5 hours.

There's always next year.....

Friday, October 8, 2010

U.S. 1 Op Ed In Richmond Times Dispatch

Today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an Op-Ed that I wrote after they ran an editorial last weekend entitled "The Scar" referring to U.S. 1. Here is an excerpt:

It's also hard to avoid the suspicion that Jeff Davis has suffered such neglect because it lacks the affluent, eloquent constituents that populate other parts of the city. What businesses there are in the area run more to bodegas, auto-parts dealers, and dollar stores than advertising agencies and smart boutiques.

Jeff Davis may be cursed by a sense -- perhaps an unconscious one -- that fixing up the infrastructure would be like putting a spoiler on a Pinto. But this sentiment, if it exists, amounts to a Catch-22. Smart boutiques will not relocate to an area whose main thoroughfare is rougher than riprap.
Sound familiar?

Much has been done to improve U.S. 1 in our neck of the woods. Right when I got out of law school, U.S. 1 had several police "hot" spots - Jim's Country Club (razed), the Belvoir Grill (burned down), Hillbilly Heaven (razed). Mount Vernon Plaza and Beacon Mall have undergone significant upgrades and many of the seedier hotels are gone, but there is still a massive amount of work to be done.

The focus on my RTD Op-Ed is that the improvement of U.S. 1 is a statewide problem - not just a Fairfax County or even a Northern Virginiaone. The road - and especially our part of Route 1 - has tremendous potential waiting to be unleashed as soon as we get widening and rail. However, to pull it off, all of the players involved need to step up to the plate to make major long term change a reality.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waynewood Principal Turns on the Afterburners

Waynewood Principal Jamie Meier got to live every elementary school boy's dream the other day riding shotgun in an after-burning F/A-18 Hornet as part of the U.S. Navy's Key Influencer Ride-A-Long Program.

The Key Influencer Program is designed to recognize people who are:

"...people who help to shape attitudes and opinions of youth in the community. People turn to Key Influencers for advice or information because they have credibility. They may be experts int heir field, public figures, leaders of yougt organizations, teachers, guidance counselors or school administrators. They are not always the people at the top but have a strong impact recruting on age youth and/or a specific target audience."

Principal Meier tells me that he was selected from among thousands of people nominated for this position. It's an amazing honor for him. A video of his takeoff is below. It is VERY cool.

I'm not sure what it is about the Meier Family. Principal Jamie Meier's brother Dan was my guidance counselor at West Potomac High School in my senior year, helped lead WePo to the State Championship in 1990, and is now the principal at Robinson Secondary School. This family seems to have leadership grafted into its DNA. Waynewood Elementary is lucky to have Principal Jamie Meier leading the school.

As a kid who doodled many fighter jet attacks while bored in school, I am soooooo envious.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thinking About My Hybrid

Last week, my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, Manual 5-speed cleared 100,000 miles and it got me to thinking about the economics of buying my car.

At the time, Hybrids had just hit the market. I wanted to buy a Toyta Prius, but the waiting list was 8 months long. At the time, I was living in Hybla Valley so I ran across the street to Sheehy Honda and signed a contract on a a Honda Civic Hybrid for $19,500 in August, 2004. It cost me a couple thousand dollars more than the regular Honda Civic, but it had better gas mileage and I wanted to support the hybrid concept at the time.

In the first couple years they were on the market, the federal government offered tax deductions hybrid purchasers. The federal deduction totalled $2,000 at the time and the net dollar effect was variable value depending on your marginal tax rate, but it definitely saved me some taxes.

I've also been thinking about my gas savings. My previous car was a 1995 Honda Accord. It's gas mileage was about 27 MPG. Today, I get about 47 MPG on average through the year (a little higher in the summer, a little lower in the winter).

I did some quick math and to drive 100,000 miles at a MPG that was 20 MPG higher translates to 1,576 less gallons of gas. I pulled down the historical gas prices for the Central Atlantic Region and did a non-weighted average ($2.66/gallon) and added a dime for Northern Virginia. Turns out my gas savings were approximately $5,872 over the last 100,000 miles.

In terms of carbon footprint, 1 gallon of gasoline translates to 19.564 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Therefore, I emitted 30,833 less pounds of carbon by purchasing this vehicle.

My car is also grandfathered into Virginia HOV restrictions. That has saved me countless hours in traffic.

One thing I also noticed as soon as I bought the car was that I spent a lot less time at the gas station. By saving 1,576 gallons of gas, that equals 112 fewer fill ups (1,576 divided by 14 gal.) over the last 6 years or about 1.5-2 less trips to the gas station each month. At five minutes per fill up, that saved me about 562 minutes or about 9.38 hours.

My car has taken some dings and nicks through the years, but it's still going strong. It gets me from Point A to Point B which my main priority. Here's the bottom line:
  • $2,000 tax deduction
  • $5,872 in saved gas
  • Hours saved in traffic by using HOV lanes
  • 9.38 hours less time at gas station
  • 30,833 less pounds of carbon emitted

All-in-all, I'm feeling pretty good about my purchase.

Town Hall Regarding ABC Privatization

Senator Toddy Puller & Delegate Scott Surovell
Town Hall Meeting Regarding ABC Privatization
Monday, September 27, 2010
7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Mount Vernon Government Center
2511 Parkers Lane
Alexandria, VA 22306

Governor McDonnell has unveiled his proposal to privatize the state's ABC stores. The Governor's Plan can be found on his Government Reform Commission Website here:

The Governor's presentations and summaries of the plan can be found under the September 8, 2010 commission meeting.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Preschool/Childcare Working Group Update

Earlier this year, I assembled a working group to focus on expanding preschool access and quality childcare in the U.S. 1 corridor. We had our third meeting this past week.

As of today, there are approximately 3,800 Fairfax County children waiting for subsidized childcare. Childcare centers in the U.S. 1 corridor have recently closed because there are not enough families who can afford high quality childcare.

There are at least fourteen preschools on the west side of U.S. 1 in my district. There are zero on the west side. There are a handful of licensed at home childcare providers on the east side and dozens on the west. The provision of childcare in the 44th District is starkly different depending on where you live.

We also learned that the capital costs for starting a new childcare center are significant. Childcare centers have to be built to burn-proof standards with extraordinarily safe building standards - effectively the same standards as hospital. Given these costs, the limitations on labor costs, and families' limited ability to afford childcare, the costs of entry into the childcare market are extraordinarily high. Government subsidies are needed to expand preschool and childcare opportunities.

We are focusing on legislative solutions in the following areas:
  • Lowering the local government match required to access state funds for subsidized childcare.
  • Requiring a biennial rebenchmarking of childcare payment rates for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
  • Providing real estate tax exemption for all non-profit childcare center.
  • Creating a fund to provide low-interest loans for capital improvements to non-profit childcare facilities.
  • Monitor proposed state rules to limit subsidized childcare to familes for five-year period and require enrollment in DCSE for unmarried recipient families.
  • Expand availability of parenting mentoring programs.
If you have any feedback for our Working Group please post it up here or send me an email at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Should Virginia Privatize Liquor Sales?

The following article appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette on September 16, 2010:

Last week, Governor McDonnell proposed to privatize Virginia’s Alcohol, Beverage Control (ABC) stores and is expected to call a special session of the state legislature on this issue. Senator Puller and I are hosting a town meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, 7-8:30 p.m. to hear constituents’ views and suggestions. Here is some preliminary information to think about before the meeting.

Every drop of hard liquor sold in Virginia, including liquor sold at restaurants, must be sold through a Virginia (ABC) store. ABC stores currently generate about $324 million in taxes and profits for taxpayers, funds that go into the state treasury for providing state services.

Four of Virginia’s 332 ABC stores are in or near my district: Penn Daw, Belleview, Engleside and Hybla Valley. The Governor proposes to close the current 332 stores and create 1,000 new distribution points by auctioning licenses to 600 big box and grocery stores, 150 small liquor stores and 250 convenience or retail stores.

I have several questions for which I am seeking answers. I’m sure you do too.

First, the plan will generate recurring revenues primarily with new taxes – a $17.50 per gallon of alcohol and a 2.5% "convenience fee" for on-premises sales including beer and wine. Beer and wine will cost more due to the tax. It is not clear whether a bottle of liquor will cost less after all the fees and taxes. Should people pay new alcohol taxes solely to help large retailers gain new profits, funds that formerly went to taxpayers?

Second, this plan is projected to net taxpayers at least $20 million less per year to pay for schools, mental health and prisons and other services. Is this cut acceptable or what is the Governor’s plan to make up for these lost revenues? We need better data to more thoroughly analyze the Governor’s revenue models, assumptions, and understand the true impact on the state budget and state services.

Third, how will license distribution work? U.S. 1 currently has 14 7-11’s, almost two Walmarts, a Target, perhaps a Costco coming, dozens of grocery stores, and over a dozen drug stores. That’s at least 40 possible new distribution points between Alexandria and Woodlawn. There appears to be no proposed restrictions on the number of licenses that could be concentrated in a specific area of a county. Are more liquor stores or sales on U. S. 1 desirable or an effective way to upgrade and help revitalize the corridor?

Fourth, the Governor says this plan is part of his solution to our transportation problems, but his calculations predict a $450 million one-time payment. The state only owns 19 retail locations and a warehouse to sell, and several, such as U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, caution that those numbers are overly optimistic. The bulk of the projected transportation money would come from license auctions.

If this is one answer to our short-changed transportation system, the Governor should acknowledge that $450 million is only enough to pay for about one-half mile of Metro or to widen U.S. 1 from Woodlawn to around the old Multiplex theater. Is this how we want to fund transportation needs?

Fifth, ABC Stores have contributed $1.5 billion to the state treasury’s general fund in the last five years. Should something generating $114 million of annual profits be sold for $450 million?

Sixth, what are the regulatory and enforcement costs of opening up 1,000 private alcohol sales outlets? Regulating needs for the existing 332 state stores is minimal. The Governor’s projections contemplate some increased enforcement costs, but are they accurate and are taxpayers are better served by increasing regulatory needs and swapping ABC agents for retail employees?

Finally, there’s the issue of priorities. When I talk to voters, most are worried about the economy and jobs, our inadequate transportation network and improving our public schools. I have not had a single constituent complain about the quality, selection, convenience or pricing of alcohol in Virginia. Is this our most pressing issue?

Senator Puller and I are having a town hall meeting on Monday, Sept. 27 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Mount Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parker’s Lane. We would appreciate your feedback at the meeting or by a call, letter or e-mail. My contact information is on my website at http://www.scottsurovell.org/.
Governor McDonnell has unveiled his proposal to privatize the state's ABC stores. The Governor's Plan can be found on his Government Reform Commission Website here:

The Governor's presentations and summaries of the plan can be found under the September 8, 2010 commission meeting.

Delegate Surovell Back to School Schedule

It's Fall which means it is Back to School Night. Unfortunately, due to some schools having their events on the same night, Delegate Surovell cannot make every school in the district.

However, you can meet Delegate Surovell at the following schools this fall:

Tuesday, 9/14, 6 PM Waynewood ES
Thursday, 9/16, 6 PM Hollin Meadows ES
Thursday, 9/16, 7 PM Belleview ES
Tuesday, 9/21, 6 PM Woodley Hills ES
Wednesday, 9/22 6:30 PM Walt Whitman IS
Thursday, 9/23, 5:30 PM Mount Vernon Woods ES
Thursday, 9/23, 6:30 PM West Potomac HS
Tuesday, 9/28, 5:30 PM Riverside ES
Tuesday, 9/28, 6:30 PM Fort Hunt ES
Wednesday, 9/29, 5:30 PM Mount Vernon HS
Thursday, 9/30, 6:30 PM Carl Sandberg IS
Monday, 10/4, 6:30 PM Washington Mill ES

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Improving Our Justice System With Technology

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette on September 8, 2010.


There have been several articles around the state addressing a Virginia Attorney General’s opinion I requested that concluded that under current law, court clerks can install, use, and charge for electronic recording systems to record court proceedings. This decision could affect many people, so I would like to clarify what it is all about and its implications.

I have practiced law in Fairfax County for 15 years and go to court nearly every day, but most people rarely think about the court system until they are called for jury duty, are the victim of a crime, get a speeding ticket, or are injured. Fairfax County’s General District Court processed over 285,000 traffic citations in 2009 so the odds of ending up there sooner or later are pretty good for many people.

Most people believe that an accurate record of court proceedings is necessary, an important element of a fair judicial system, and most probably assume that Virginia has a system in place to provide an accurate record of proceedings. This is true in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and the United States District Courts, but not Virginia.

Suppose you get a ticket for running into someone in an intersection. You go to General District Court because you think you were incorrectly charged. During trial, the other driver testifies that you had a stop sign and you are convicted. Afterwards, you go to the intersection and discover that there is no stop sign. You can appeal your case for a new trial in Circuit Court, but you have no way to clearly confront the other driver with their false statement, which was given under oath and in court, because no one hired a court reporter to record the trial.

In a court proceeding, creating and preserving the record — what is spoken by everyone and introduced in evidence in court — is critical. Dozens of appeals are dismissed every year because the record was not preserved or clear. People also testify a little more "carefully" when being recorded and judges are more diligent in their rulings. Everyone is more likely to get the right result in court because the record is clear and not based on what different people thought they heard.

Today, if you want to have a complete record in a Virginia case, you must hire a court reporter that costs between $350 and $500 per day at your own expense. This often does not make sense in shorter hearings, such as trials for traffic tickets or hearings on motions. For litigants who cannot even afford attorneys, court reporters are often not considered at all, even when you might have a child’s future at stake.

During my campaign, I proposed authorizing electronic recording of court proceedings as part of a specific government efficiency proposal. After speaking with Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey last fall, I introduced legislation to accomplish this that was killed in a House of Delegates’ subcommittee on a party-line vote.

The Attorney General’s opinion basically validates my legislation by making it unnecessary, and gives Virginia’s court clerks the green light to begin installing recording systems, once they have funding without further approval from the General Assembly. Ultimately, recording court proceedings will improve the administration of justice in Virginia, provide greater assurance of an accurate court record, improve access to justice for people of limited means, make our justice system more efficient and save Virginians millions of dollars.

I am also assembling my legislative agenda for the 2011 Session. My constituents are the source of some of my best bills so please send me an email at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov if you have any ideas for legislation. Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

Here are some articles regarding this decision:

VDOT to Reconsider Montebello Signalization

Last June, several constituents in Montebello contacted me with concerns about the reconfiguration of signalization of the stop light at Mount Eagle Drive and U.S. 1 after the Holiday Inn Express was opened. The location is below:


View Larger Map

The new configuration requires a wait before someone can turn onto Mount Eagle Drive and has substantially increased the time it takes to access the property and traffic given that over 1,000 people live there.

Several people in the Montebello community, my office, and Supervisor Gerry Hyland's office contacted VDOT who has now decided to reconsider their decision and further study the intersection to ascertain whether the old configuration presents a danger to motorists. VDOT's letter is below.

9-10 VDOT Letter Re: US 1-Montebello Intersection

I am glad they are open to considering changing their position given the community's position. If anyone in Montebello has any comments they should send them to VDOT during the study period at:

VDOT
Northern Virginia District Office
14685 Avion Parkway
Chantilly, VA 20151-1104
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