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

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
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 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:

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

FCPS Numbers to Think About

Student's in the 44th District go back to school next week. Here's some Fairfax County numbers to think about.

Total Students: 175,333
* Next Closest VA Jurisdiction: Prince William 76,874
* 12th Largest System in United States

Free & Reduced Lunch Students: 39,019
* Would Be 8th Largest School System in VA of 132 Jurisdictions
Students Receiving Special Education: 24,363
* Would Be 11th Largest School System in VA of 132 Jurisdictions
English as Second Language: 21,347
* Would Be 14th Largest School System in VA of 132 Jurisdictions
Operating Budget: $2.2 Billion
* Would Rank as 123rd Largest Country Budget in World (or 122nd)
* Larger Than 100 Countries
* Larger Than 5 State General Fund Budgets (2007)
Cost Per Student: $12,597
Total Employees: 22,150
Total Teachers: 14,000+/-
School Based Positions: 92.8%

High Schools: 21
Alternative High Schools: 2
Secondary Schools: 4
Intermediate Schools: 19
Middle Schools: 3
Elementary Schools: 139
Alternative Programs: 46
Buses: 1,540

White: 45.3%
African American: 10.4%
American Indian: .3%
Asian American: 18.8%
Hispanic: 18.1%
Multiracial: 5.9%

Four-Year Graduation Rate: 91.2%
I gave a floor speech during the 2010 General Assembly Session about some of these facts in response to some of my colleagues who suggested that all of Fairfax County was wealthy and did not have as much need as the rest of Virginia especially when it came to school funding. Here it is below.