How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Recognizing Historic U.S. 1

When my grandparents first moved to Mt. Vernon in 1941, U.S. 1 was a hard top four-lane country highway running from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Virginia peppered with motels along the approach to historic Mount Vernon. It is a road with a long history and it actually parallels an old Indian Trail that followed the fall line before our area was settled.

When my grandparents arrived, Fairfax County produced more dairy products than any other county in Virginia and U.S. 1 was the commercial heart of the county to the extent that there was one.

U.S. 1 is 2376 miles long, traverses 17 states, running from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida, and goes through 16 cities and counties in Virginia. It was originally named the Quebec-Miami International Highway in 1911 and then Atlantic Highway in 1915. You can read more about the history and importance of U.S. 1 to Fairfax County and the Commonwealth in the resolution I introduced this year regarding the creation of a special U.S. 1 transportation district by clicking here.

This year, Delegate Sam Nixon introduced legislation to designate part of U.S. 1 in Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights as "Historic U.S. 1" as part of an economic development project that their localities are undertaking to redevelop U.S. 1 in their communities. Tourism advocates in the City of Richmond are exploring a publicity campaign to promote the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. 1. The U.S. Highway system was created in 1926 to promote auto tourism and economic development.

Designating U.S. 1 is good idea not just for two counties, but for the entire Commonwealth. Therefore, I have written a letter to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton asking him to have Governor McDonnell amend the legislation we passed to apply to the entire road and not just U.S. 1 in two jursidictions. You can see the letter here. It was signed by the 20 Delegates and 11 Senators whose districts touch U.S. 1.

Given Governor McDonnell's roots in the Mount Vernon community and the support for this idea from every legislator along the route, I am hopeful that Governor McDonnell will favorably consider our request. Recognizing U.S. 1's historic character throughout the Commonwealth will raise its visibility not just within Mount Vernon and Northern Virginia, but the entire state.

Working to Transform U.S. 1

The following article was published in the Mount Vernon Gazette and the Mount Vernon Voice on February 25, 2010.

Transportation has barely been on the agenda in Richmond this session, but our federal elected officials are coming through for us. Last week, Senators Webb and Warner and Congressmen Moran and Connolly announced $30 million in Northern Virginia transit funding including monies for transit on U.S. 1. Most importantly, Congressman Moran announced that he had secured approximately $150 million to improve access to the new $800 million Dewitt Hospital on Fort Belvoir in December. Aside from intersection improvements there has not been a single new lane of asphalt paved in my delegate seat since I was born in 1971. This funding is the best opportunity we have to improve the transportation infrastructure inside the Mount Vernon community in four decades.

The Army has 90 days to recommend how to invest the money. There is some risk the money could get spent south or west of Mount Vernon. Therefore, I have sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army asking that the monies be invested between Woodlawn and Hybla Valley consistent with the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Today, there are 12-16+ lanes feeding eight lanes between Woodlawn and Hybla Valley from all directions. The Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan calls for that section of U.S. 1 to be widened to six lanes with two additional center lanes dedicated to transit or light rail. Widening U.S. 1 north of Woodlawn is absolutely critical to get traffic moving, make transit services more reliable, and to stimulate economic development in our community. Otherwise, U.S. 1 will become utterly gridlocked and Fort Belvoir traffic will shift to the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

You can read the full text of my letter along with maps on my blog, The Dixie Pig (scottsurovell.blogspot.com), or my Web site, http://www.scottsurovell.org/. All interested parties should also write to Secretary John McHugh at the Pentagon.

This week, I also put together a bipartisan coalition of 19 delegates and 11 senators asking the Governor to amend legislation to designate all of U.S. 1 as "Historic U.S. 1." This designation would confirm the road’s historic significance in the Commonwealth, stimulate its tourism potential and enhance visibility as a community asset.

Finally, the second half of the legislative session moves us into the budget debates. This year’s budget is horrific. It is the worst budget cycle since the Great Depression with the largest General Fund revenue decline in 70 years. It is the first time revenue has gone down in consecutive budget cycles since the 1930s. I will write more about the budget situation next week, but our community has more to lose from decreased state funding than any other part of Northern Virginia. We have significant populations of at-risk children, Medicaid recipients, and families in need of government services. The Stimulus Act papered over these losses last year and it is now time to pay the bills. The proposed budget reductions will push our local schools, hospitals, justice system, local governments, and charities to the limit.

In the meantime, please visit my blog, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com for three to four more articles per week and many of my floor speeches. I need your input so please communicate with me. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cutting The Arts Cuts Jobs

There has been a lot of talk this session about creating jobs and the House of Delegates has passed a few bills that are purportedly about creating jobs. Most are focused on corporate tax credits.

However, the government can do a lot to create jobs using very little money. One of those ways is through investing in the arts. The House Budget offered on Sunday proposes to completely eliminate funding for the Virginia's Commission for the Arts. The Virginia Commission for the Arts has a proven track record in economic development and has helped revitalize local economies across the Commonwealth.

In the Mount Vernon Community, the Mount Vernon Community Children's Theatre (MVCCT) has created opportunities for our community's children to participate in theatre productions - including my own children who have participated in MVCCT productions for three years. This organization also stimulates the arts in lower income communities of Mount Vernon as well.

Just to the north in the City of Alexandria, the Torpedo Factory Art Center, the Art League, MetroStage, Signature Theater, Del Ray Artisans, and numerous other arts organizations and programs supported by the Commission over the years have strengthened Alexandria's economy and created a tourism destination, creating jobs and contributing to tax revenues that support core services like education, health care, and public safety. People from all over the Mount Vernon Community benefit from these programs on a daily basis.

We also have a thriving arts community just to the South of us in Lorton. The Workhouse Arts Center helped redevelop the former Lorton Prison site and turn a blighted property into a thriving community resource.

In a year where economic development -- and especially job creation -- has been a paramount concern in the General Assembly, I believe it is economically shortsighted for the House to pass a budget that will completely eliminate funding for an activity that is currently returning $7 in investment by private citizens, businesses, and local governments for every one dollar of state money invested. Moreover, House Republicans have found room in their budget for investments of similar scale in tax incentives for movie stars, despite the fact that the conservative Tax Foundation's recent comprehensive study of these incentives call into question any purported return on that investment.

Elimination of this relatively modest investment in our local programs that actually benefit our communities in favor tax credits for millionaire movie producers is risky and irresponsible.

Gerry Hyland's 2010 Bus Tour

Supervisor Gerry Hyland is the hardest working member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The Mount Vernon Magisterial District was the first part of the County that was tamed from wilderness and has unique historic resources, it has the Potomac River, is one of the most diverse districts in Fairfax County, contains a military base, the most land area, and has been the fastest growing district in Fairfax County over the last decade. Leading community development in this area is a real challenge and we have a real professional in Gerry Hyland who has now led our community for over 20 years.

That is why Gerry's annual Town Meeting is always such an interesting event. The highlight of the meeting is Gerry's "Bus Tour" which discusses changes that have occurred and will be occuring in the future in our community. You can view Gerry's Bus Tour here:


There are a lot of changes coming to our community.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fighting for the Future of U.S. 1

In December, Congressman Moran announced that he secured a $150 million earmark to improve transportation access to the new $800 million Dewitt Hospital on Fort Belvoir.

The Department of Army was given 90 days to make recommendations as to how to invest these monies. U.S. 1 needs to be widened south of Lorton and there are also needs for other transportation improvements to improve access to Fort Belvoir from Interstate 95.

However, the biggest transportation priority in our area is improving U.S. 1 between Hybla Valley and Woodlawn. Right now, we have 12-16 lanes on either side feeding into 4. This map below demonstrates the problem.

(Click On Map To Enlarge)

It is clogged with traffic during the week and especially on weekends. Lack of accessibility has prevent our area from attracting investment and being redeveloped. Congestion in the U.S. 1 Corridor is a major quality of life problem in Mount Vernon.

The changes bring brought by the BRAC process are going to be massive. The Pentagon is spending $6 billion on the base and shifting over 12,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir. The Fort Belvoir BRAC project is the single largest BRAC realignment in the United States. The Mount Vernon community stands to be significantly impacted by it.

Yesterday, I sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army. You can see my letter by clicking here. Here is the text.

February 21, 2010

Secretary John McHugh
Department of the Army
1400 Defense
Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-4000

Colonel Jerry L. Blixt
Department of Army
U.S. Army Garrison,
Fort Belvoir
Command Group
9820 Flagler Road
Fort Belvoir, VA
22060-5932


Re: $150 Million BRAC Dewitt Access Improvements
Dear Secretary McHugh and
Colonel Blixt:

Since the beginning of the announced changes to Fort Belvoir caused by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), I have been very impressed by your team’s engagement in the community, willingness to listen and effort to communicate as we move through the changes coming to Fort Belvoir.

I am writing to express my recommendations on the use of the funds secured by Congressman James Moran for transportation improvements needed because of the BRAC changes. My delegate seat effectively consists of everything north of Ft. Belvoir along U.S. 1 and the Potomac River.

It is my understanding that you are considering recommending the widening of U.S. 1 along with numerous interchange improvements. I have lived in this community my entire life and my family moved to the Mount Vernon area in 1941. U.S. 1 has not been widened north of Telegraph Road since the year I was born – 1971 – and we are seeing the adverse impacts of that today.

After the state of our economy, U.S. 1 and the future traffic impacts caused by the BRAC process was the number one issue on people’s minds as I went door-to-door last summer and fall. The U.S. 1 corridor is our business community, the key to future economic development in southeastern Fairfax County and the heart of my delegate seat.

If you look at the attached map you can see that the problem is fairly simple. The central part of U.S. 1 is a small collector road for dozens of lanes.

  • U.S. 1 is fed from the South by (a) four lanes of U.S. 1 (dark blue), (b) 2 lanes from Telegraph Road (light blue), and (c) 2 lanes from Fairfax County Parkway (VA 7100) (light blue).
  • U.S. 1 is fed from the North by (a) 6-8 lanes of U.S. 1, (b) 2 lanes of Mt. Vernon Memorial Highway (VA 235) via G.W. Parkway, (c) Mulligan Road (light blue), and (d) dozens of 2-lane local roads.

Four lanes simply cannot handle eight lanes from the south and twelve-plus lanes from the North. This will be catastrophic once the volume from Dewitt Hospital, the BRAC changes, and the U.S. Army Museum is added. The part of the road I highlighted in bright red is in desperate need of widening and improved transit facilities.

If U.S. 1 is not widened north of Woodlawn, the new hospital at Fort Belvoir will only be truly accessible from the south or west. The U.S. 1 bottleneck just south of the Multiplex property currently forces traffic to substantially back up in Hybla Valley. My constituents avoid it. Without widening, emergency medical and other vehicles will be seriously hampered in trying to get to the new hospital.

In addition, if U. S. 1 is not widened, hospital users travelling from Maryland or through Alexandria from the north will be forced to use the Davidson Gate or Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (VA 235) via George Washington Memorial Parkway because of traffic bottlenecks on U.S. 1. The parkway, a highway designed in the 1930s, already has far more traffic than it was designed to handle and it is already unsafe. It was never designed to be a major thoroughfare or a commuter route. The parkway was conceived as means to conservation. It is part of a national park. In other words, it is a road running through a park. It was intended to conserve the natural and scenic values of the Potomac River and not as an “entryway” to the first President’s home or a military base. All trucking traffic is illegal on the road.

Every entrance to the parkway that has been added since construction – Belleview Boulevard, Tulane Dive, Morningside Lane, Waynewood Boulevard and Stratford Lane -- has increased traffic and accidents as people attempt to access a high-speed road without modern-day merge lanes or exits. Moreover, increased southbound traffic on the parkway will simply cause significant backups at the Mount Vernon Estate and where the parkway goes from four lanes to two or north back into the city of Alexandria.

The Mount Vernon Estate is the largest private employer in my district, has over 1,000,000 visitors and is also planning a $38 million library that will attract
even more visitors. In the summer, there are already significant backups around Mount Vernon.

Additionally, by widening U.S. 1 north to the Multiplex property, the dedicated transit lanes called for in Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan can be constructed and mass transit will operate much more reliably. Better mass transit will further mitigate traffic impacts through, to, and from the post all the way to Lorton. As long as the dedicated transit lanes are not built, buses will not be able to adhere to their schedules because of traffic delays. This will discourage people from using mass transit.

Finally, widening the red section of U.S. 1 would dovetail perfectly with the $58.8 million of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) stimulus funding that was awarded under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government just last week to enhance transit service in the U.S. 1 Corridor.

We are currently presented with an opportunity to make a significant long-term impact on our community, one that will generate significant synergies for our area. The most logical investment of these transportation funds to improve access to Dewitt is to widen U.S. 1 as far north as possible – to the Multiplex bottleneck if at all possible.

I appreciate your considering my recommendations and the views of the community that I represent. I look forward to your decision and working closely with you toward a solution that is best for our community.

Sincerely Yours,
/s/ Scott A. Surovell
Delegate Scott A. Surovell
44th District

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why We Live in Mt. Vernon: Hollin Hall Automotive


I recently came across a story which made me remember why people live in the Mount Vernon community.

My neighborhood, Tauxemont, was one of the first modern subdivisions built in Fairfax County. Because there were nothing but farms around when it was built, it also has its own water system and we avoided our system being bought out when the Fairfax County water system was created in the 1950's.

Membership does have its privileges. When Hurricane Isabelle hit, we lost electricity for five days and along with it - water. We purchased a generator. Right before Snowmageddon hit, we needed a battery. Here's the story from one of my neighbors.

Many thanks from the Tauxemont Water Committee to the Hollin Hall Automotive Chevron Service Station and specifically owner Tom Harvey for their generous contribution of an industrial quality battery for the community’s emergency diesel well electric generator.

This neighborly gesture came about when the water committee decided to replace the old diesel generator battery with a new one in anticipation of the coming snow blizzard. Upon discovering that we were representing the Tauxemont Community, Tom tore up the invoice with the statement that Tauxemont residents had been strong and loyal customers to his families’ business for 50 years and that the battery was a small repayment for that community loyalty.

And finally we know that shortly after the new battery was installed the diesel generator helped supply the community water during the power outage. The water committee salutes Tom Harvey and the employees of the Hollin Hall Station for its good neighbor generosity.
The Hollin Hall gas station has been owned by the same family since I was born. It is a community institution.

Mount Vernon is full of local businesses like this. It is something that really makes our community different from other parts of Fairfax County and makes Mount Vernon a great place to live.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Speaking Out for Mason Neck

Mason Neck State Park is a real asset to the Mount Vernon community. Governor Bob McDonnell has proposed that we mothball the Park due to budget cuts.

Congressman Gerry Connolly and I have both sent letters to Governor McDonnell protesting this. Here is my letter. Here is Congressman Connolly's letter.

Here is the text of my letter:

Governor Robert F. McDonnell
Commonwealth of Virginia
P.O. Box 1472
Richmond, VA 23212

Re: Proposed Closure of Mason Neck Park

Dear Governor McDonnell:

Thank you for providing your list of proposed budget cuts. The Commonwealth’s fiscal situation is certainly dire and will require many difficult choices. I have concerns about many of your proposals, but there is one specific proposal that would significantly affect the business community in my area – your proposal to close the 1,800-acre Mason Neck State Park.

Given your roots in the Mount Vernon Community, I am sure you are familiar with the park. After two decades of development battles, it was opened when I was a freshman in high school in 1985. Many of my constituents use the park for its hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Congressman Connolly cites statistics that 88,000 people use the park per year. Those statistics do not include cyclists. I personally cycle to the park on weekends along with Mt. Vernon’s “Over the Hill” cycling team – The Lardbutts – who have adopted the road leading into the park.

I have also reserved Mason Neck’s gazebos on numerous occasions for group events. Families also use the park for large gatherings. There are limited venues for these kinds of activities in the Mount Vernon community and closing this park only puts additional pressure on our overbooked county and regional parks. This is also the only state park that is easily accessible to Northern Virginia’s two million residents.

Being an area native, I am also sure that you are aware that the need for economic development is absolutely critical in the U.S. 1 Corridor. The business community on U.S. 1 consists mostly of retail establishments and hotels. Visitors to Mason Neck Park spend over $500,000 at local businesses sustaining jobs and creating tax revenue. The Commonwealth is receiving a $5 return on every dollar spent. Given your administration’s focus on creating jobs through tourism, I would have thought this was exactly the kind of decision your
Administration would not have made.

I wholeheartedly agree with Congressman Connolly that closing this park will not save the Commonwealth money on a net basis. It will only harm our community. Please reconsider your decision.

Sincerely Yours,
/s/
Delegate Scott A. Surovell
44th District

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hurting The Poor & Leaving Money on the Table

Last year, a fight developed after the House of Delegates rejected $125 million of federal stimulus funding because it required Virginia to modify its unemployment benefits to apply to some part-time workers. Instead of receiving $125 million of federal stimulus money, our money went to other states.

This seems to be a trend. This year it is Medicaid. Medicaid is the state's health insurance for the disabled and low-income people. We have one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the country in terms of eligibility - we are 48th in per capita spending in 2007 even though we have the 8th highest median family income in the United States ($70,894). Who receives Medicaid? In 2008, Virginia's program beneficiares were the following:

487,929 children
142,180 carents, caretakers & pregnant women
81,541 elderly people
182,636 blind and disabled persons

There are several ways to qualify for Medicaid, but generally speaking you must be incredibly poor in Virginia - 80% to 130% of federal poverty level (e.g. $10,830 for one person or $22,050 for family of four). Some states provide Medicaid for persons who are as much as 300% of the federal poverty level (but not Virginia).

The federal government matches most Medicaid spending pursuant to the FMAP ratio (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage). In Virginia, the ratio is 50% - in other words the federal government matches most Virginia Medicaid spending dollar-for-dollar (it was increased to 61.58% for two years under the Obama Administration's stimulus bill).

Therefore, if Virginia "cuts" Medicaid spending by $400 million, we actually reduce Medicaid spending $800 million - deepening the effects on the health care industry which employs tens of thousands of Virginians, further reducing taxable incomes, and taxes even further. The health care industry is estimating 6,000 job losses under the Kaine-McDonnell "cuts."

Former Governor Kaine already proposed "cutting" Medicaid by $482 million. Governor McDonnell has now proposed health care spending "cuts" of an additional $684 million including $316 million of Medicaid cuts.

Because of the federal match that would be lost, the healthcare industry is estimating that these cuts will collectively result in Virginia losing about $700 million of federal funds. They further estimate that these "cuts" will reduce tax revenue by $140 million (taxed economic activity lost). One of my fellow freshman, Del. Patrick Hope, spoke to this on the floor earlier this week and had some great comments.

The above numbers also do not even begin to address the broader effects - that when people don't go to the doctor for preventative care they can't afford, they can end up in the hospital requiring significantly more expensive hospitalization or they might end up dead. The other big side effect is that when you drive down provider reimbursements for Medicaid (what doctors and hospitals are paid for care), the providers drive up costs on everyone else. We all pay for the uninsured. This is part of what drives massive inflation on health care costs and increased costs for private insurance.

What's the bottom line? Our former and new Governors have proposed to cut care to poor elderly, blind and children, leave $700 million of federal money on the table, cause quite a few healthcare workers to lose their jobs, lose $140 million in state and local tax revenue, run up health care expenses and insurance over the long term. Is this a wise public policy choice?

Maybe this bill we passed giving movie stars tax credits will make up for it?

State Budget Crisis Looms

The following article was published in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on February 18, 2010:

Last week we had a big victory in protecting funding for Fairfax County’s Public Schools. Governor Bob McDonnell announced his opposition to former Governor Kaine’s proposal to "freeze" the "rebenchmarking" or readjustment of the local composite index (LCI), part of the funding formula that determines state funding of local schools. If Kaine’s decision goes into effect, it will cost us about $61 million or $438,000 per Fairfax County school. I am working to prevent these cuts and enact Governor McDonnell’s proposal.

I have been consistently clear in opposing freezing the LCI. Hundreds of Fairfax County residents, including a particularly dedicated group of parents from the Stratford Landing area, have lobbied the Governor and state legislators to prevent these cuts. While the existing formula does not benefit Fairfax County, it does avoid biennial regional warfare and provides some measure of predictability. Governor McDonnell’s decision was the right decision for Virginia and I applaud him.

However, preliminary reports are that budget negotiators are discussing a $700 million cut from elementary-secondary education. These cuts could generate opposition from other localities that are more dependent on the state’s money (really mostly Northern Virginia’s money) and these jurisdictions will start to face the same kind of pain Fairfax County has been discussing recently. Do not be surprised if the rebenchmarking issue gets put back on the table.

The Fairfax County schools’ budget hole is still massive — over $100 million — with more state budget cuts about to hit. Nearly 60 percent of the Mount Vernon families who responded to my survey said that their number one priority is protecting elementary-secondary education funding. I will fight any effort to reduce our public school funds and continue to look for ways to fund our schools and do so without relying so heavily on residential real estate taxes.

This week, we start work on the Senate’s bills and the state budget. This budget is the worst we have seen since the Great Depression and the 44th District has some of the highest concentrations of people most likely to be affected. I expect proposals like massive "cuts" in Medicaid, the federal-state program providing health care to disabled and low-income people, and even more proposals to cut college funding.

These changes are not "cuts" but are simply shifts of government responsibilities to Mount Vernon’s middle-class families in the form of higher tuition, higher insurance costs and a raft of fees for students’ tests, sports and activities. I will fight as hard as I can against these efforts to dismantle what have traditionally been community responsibilities.

Finally, please visit my blog, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com for three to four more articles per week and many of my floor speeches. You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at http://www.scottsurovell.org/. Good government requires your input so please communicate with me so I can best represent your concerns in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mt. Vernon's Gum Springs: An Historic Community

As part of Black History Month, The Mount Vernon Gazette has been running a series of articles regarding the history of Gum Springs.

Gum Springs is probably the oldest historically black community in Mt. Vernon. There are a few other communities such as Quander Road, Lorton and Mason Neck. Growing up, I had many friends from that area and the Gum Springs Football team used to absolutely destroy us every year.

It is pretty rare when you knock doors in our community that you run into families whose names are on the street signs. The odd street maps, unique housing patterns, and the history made it one of my favorite places to knock doors during the campaign.
The articles below detail the history of Gum Springs.

Gum Springs: A Slave's Legacy, Part I
Gum Springs: A Slave's Legacy, Part II

Gum Springs: A Slave's Legacy, Part III
Gum Springs: A Slave's Legacy, Part IV

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Cutting Expenses" or Passing the Buck?

Back in December, I wrote about how Former Governor Kaine's proposed budget "cuts" were really an effort to shift expenses on to the backs of poor and middle class taxpayers. The other trend that is emerging from the budget discussions is an effort to shift more and more state responsibilities to local government.

This trend really started with the last "bad" recession in the early 90's. Under Former Governor Wilder, the state balanced its budget by cutting higher education, law enforcement, and courts. To avoid cutting back essential services (like prosecuting criminals, teaching children, or having colleges), most local government stepped in and funded the state's responsibilities.

For example, in Fairfax County the county actually pays for many of our courthouse staff or supplements their salary, pays the entire salaries of 15 Circuit Court law clerks to keep Fairfax County's complex dockets moving, and supplements the salaries of clerks and prosecutors - although these are state responsibilities. If they did not, the Courthouse and Commonwealth's Attorney would have an even more difficult time retaining qualified personnel and our dockets would be a disaster. The $700 million of education cuts under discussion are also going to result in all of the Commonwealth's localities picking up more of the tab on education than they have in the past.

Other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth have started to complain about this as well. The real problem is that by shifting state responsibilities to local responsibilities, the practical effect is for more services to be funded by residential real estate taxes and less funded by income and sales taxes. Residential real estate taxes are not progressive - one way or the other, you pay them whether you rent or own and they are not progressive at all. Residential real estate taxes also put disproportionate burdens on elderly living on fixed incomes.

All of these "cuts" are not cuts - they are cost shifts. "Cutting" higher education increases tuition and pushes costs onto middle class families. "Cutting" Medicaid pushes health care expenses to private insurance payers. "Cutting" homeless funds pushes expenses onto charities. "Cutting" mental health pushes people into the criminal system. People still get sick, are mentally ill, are homeless, and go to college. Most of these "cuts" do not make government more efficient, they simply defer our responsibilities.

Our existing government and tax structure is the round peg of an increasingly diverse urban and suburban state being shoved into the antiquated square hole designed for an non-existent homogenous agrarian state. Avoiding this reality just exacerbates inequality and unfairness. This budget crisis presents an opportunity to step up and have an honest discussion about our Commonwealth and move towards long-term fixes, not stop gap budgetary efforts that will prolong regional conflicts, inequity, and maximize the amount of time legislators are focused on solutiuons intractable problems. I hope that discussion starts very soon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Crossover Approaches

Tommorrow is "Crossover" - the day when the House and Senate must complete all work on their own legislation and it is transmitted to the other chamber.

We have a ton of bills up today for Second Reading - or in layman's terms, debate. You can see the docket if you click here. Lots of bills about guns, concealed weapon permits, and hunting.

I also have one on my bills on the floor for debate. HB 831 requires the Commonwealth and all localities to confirm that an out-of-state corporation has properly qualified to do business in Virginia before they can bid on a public contract. While practicing law, I have found that most companies do not qualify to transact business when they should. I had one case involving a company that had been doing business with a locality for 10 years that hurt 13 people. It cost my client $1,500 to serve them with a lawsuit instead of $12 to the Sheriff because they had not qualified. My bill will level the playing field for Virginia companies and bring more revenue for taxpayers. I am hopeful that it will pass.

If you have any comments on any legislation, please use the tool on my website here.

After Crossover, the Budget will begin to take center stage. Things are going to get interesting once the budget cuts are announced. I expect the rest of the Commonwealth will start having to confront the same kinds of school cuts we have been discussing in Fairfax County for the last three month, and services for our most needy are probably going to take a body blow. I am gearing up for the fight.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Washington Examiner: Waynewood Rocks

This week's Washington Examiner featured the Waynewood Community as a great place to live. Waynewood is right in the middle of the 44th District - here's a link for the location.

Among the neighborhoods south of Old Town Alexandria off the George Washington Parkway, Waynewood stands out as an affordable and well-established community. Constructed in the late 1950s on 300 acres of the original Mount Vernon estate known as River Farm, the neighborhood defines the epitome of an American suburb.

"Our homes hold value here, and not because they are architecturally superior, but because it's a great place to call home," said long-time resident and Coldwell banker agent Lyssa Seward. "It's a wonderful neighborhood, due to its schools, wonderful location, and strong sense of community."
Waynewood is a great place to live. It is teeming with kids. It has zero crime. It is stable. No one leaves. Waynewood Elementary School is my alma mater, it is where my kids go to school, and is one of the top elementary schools in Fairfax County.

Congratulations to Waynewood and thanks to the Examiner for featuring our community.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Legislature’s Pace Quickens

The following appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and the Mount Vernon Voice on February 10, 2010.

The work of the General Assembly is intensifying, as we approach this session’s mid-point. Several of my bills will be considered soon.

HB 831 requires out-of-state companies to establish that they are qualified to transact business in Virginia before they bid on government contracts. Most non-Virginia corporations do not pay the filing fees ($250 to $2,500) or annual fees ($100 per year) required of Virginia-based companies. Non-Virginia companies can take business away from law-abiding Virginia companies because the state and localities do not confirm that our law is being followed before they award a company a contract. If passed, my legislation would net millions for taxpayers and create more Virginia jobs.

I have talked to Governor McDonnell three times and urged him to block former Governor Kaine’s proposal to freeze the “Local Composite Index,” the school funding factor that could deprive Fairfax County of $61 million. Governor McDonnell assures me that he is focusing on it. He always reminds me that he grew up in the Mount Vernon communities of Hollin Hall and Riverside. We’ll see if he also remembers the high expectations we have for our schools and our schools’ many compelling needs.

We need people in decision-making positions who understand our region. That’s why I’m pressing for my bill to reallocate seats on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), the group that decides which major transportation construction projects to fund (when we actually have money). The Governor makes these appointments based on Virginia’s 1930 population patterns. My bill, HB 818, requires representation using current congressional districts. So far, the majority has refused to act on my bill. I am working to change that.

I have talked to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton twice about U.S. 1. Mr. Connaughton lived in the Sequoyah Condominiums in Janna Lee on U.S. 1 and also represented Woodbridge, so he knows firsthand the importance of revitalizing the Route 1 corridor.

My bill modifying civil penalties for tobacco tax stamps passed the House of Delegates. The Department of Taxation requested this bill because they have problems enforcing penalties when machines fail to affix stamps to cigarette packs. The fines were out of proportion to the stamp costs and resulted in appeals in 42 of 50 of actions. For instance, $30 of missed stamps required a $25,000 assessment and missing stamps cannot be discovered, if at all, until packs are removed from cartons by inattentive stockers or cashiers. Innocent retailers, such as those who provide many of the jobs on U.S. 1, bear the brunt of the enforcement actions. This bill will result in fewer appeals, more fines paid and better results for taxpayers and for businesses.

Many people have visited me in Richmond. I welcome these meetings. If possible, call or e-mail in advance so we can arrange a tour of your historic Capitol, where the famous statue of Mount Vernonite George Washington is the centerpiece . Amtrak has three trains daily from Alexandria to Richmond’s Main Street Station.

Please share your views on my website, www.ScottSurovell.org or by calling 571-249-4484 and read about my work at ScottSurovell.Blogspot.com.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More School Cuts Are Coming

Governor McDonnell recently announced that he would support the rebenchmarking of the Local Composite Index. This will restore about $61 million of Fairfax County education funding. This still has to be agreed to by the House and Senate.



However, the Governor has also refused to support any revenue adjustments so there are another $2 billion in cuts that need to happen. People have started to ask me what that means for Fairfax County. The budget is a fluid document and these things are hard to calculate. Additionally, when you are in the minority party in a Chamber, it is hard to get good information.



Here's an idea of how you can start to get at the numbers. Governor Kaine's Budget says the State and Fairfax County are budgeted for the following Direct Aid to Public Education:















YearCommonwealthFairfax County
2011$5,906,146,765$451,067,422
2012$5,777,515,603 $504,898,114




The Washington Post is reporting that the McDonnell Administration is discussing a $700,000,000 cut to K-12 Education. If this cut were only to Direct Aid to Public Education, this would equate to about 6% cut ($700M/$11.6B). A 6% cut to Fairfax County's funds would be $26 million per year, $150 per Fairfax County student per year. My guess is that we are heading for at least $20 million or losing about a third of what Governor McDonnell just proposed to restore in by changing the LCI rebenchmarking decision.



On the other hand, these cuts will be much more significant to other jurisdictions that are more dependent upon state funding for their local education. When these cuts hit, the rest of the state is going to be looking at cuts similar to what Fairfax County has been talking about for the last three months.



We will see the final numbers in about one week. These budget cuts are significant, unprecedented, and very serious business.

Poll Taxes Circa 2010

Today, the House of Delegates passed HB 498, a bill that changes Virginia law regarding voting. Currently, a voter is required to present ID and if they do not have ID, are required to sign an Affidavit of Identity. Then they are allowed to vote.

HB 498 provides that a voter must present a valid government-issued ID. If they cannot produce an ID, then they must cast a provisional ballot. The voter must then drive to the Electoral Board meeting the day after the election and provide evidence in support of their right to vote so that their ballot can be cast.

This requirement has become a trend in legislatures around the country after the U.S. Supreme Court found that requiring ID was not an unconstitutional restriction on voting in Crawford v. Marion Board of Elections in 2008.

I opposed this legislation because it disenfranchises people who do not have driver's licenses including the elderly, the poor, the blind, religious objectors, or even people who have simply lost their license. I also oppose it because I believe that any voting requirement that involves the payment of money amounts to a poll tax - a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court had to step in to stop in Virginia in 1966 in Harper v. State Board of Elections. For decades, the poll tax was used in Virginia to disenfranchise voters including my grandparents when they first moved here in 1935.

The Mount Vernon area is a very diverse community. We have one of the highest concentrations of elderly in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area. We also have large numbers of mass transit users and people who do not have vehicles. This law would potentially affect many voters in the 44th. I think it is bad public policy.

My comments are below along with some floor speeches of my colleagues who were very moving. The bill is moving on to the Virginia Senate - click here to contact your Senator.





Wednesday, February 10, 2010

VDOT Plowing Update

The past few days I have been in touch with Virginia Department of Transportation staff regarding snow removal efforts throughout Mt. Vernon and Northern Virginia.

VDOT has been working around the clock since Friday's storm to clear roads throughout Northern Virginia. Monday and Tuesday, VDOT was able to focus on residential streets and secondary roads.

With the new snow accumulation from last night and today, VDOT is now refocusing efforts on keeping primary thoroughfares and the interstates open. As the main arteries are cleared, VDOT staff and contractors will return to clear subdivisions and side streets. More information from VDOT is available at the link below.


If you have questions or concerns about the plowing efforts, please call my Legislative Aide, Christopher Bea, at 804.698.1044 and we will call VDOT to see what the status is on your street.

Again, here is information regarding problems with electricity service.

Dominion Resources Power Outage Line
888.667.3000
Dominion Resources Storm Center
Service Restoration Updates
Northern Virginia Outages Map

Fairfax County has also set up a page of helpful links on dealing with the storm:

Speaking Out Against Corporate Welfare

Crown Cork & Seal purchased a Virginia company that had been engaged in the manufacturing of asbestos products. Asbestos has been found to cause a form of cancer called mesothelioma. The liability associated with this has been substantial.

The Washington Post ran two stories about this here and here, and the Virginian Pilot ran a story here.

The House of Delegates considered legislation that was drafted to limit Crown Cork & Seal's liability to money they had already paid. I always have concerns any time we limit anyone's liability or change the law, especially for injuries that have already been caused.

I also have concerns about passing legislation that limits liability for a specific company. From my point of view, this company made a bad business decision and was asking the legislature to bail them out of a bad business decision.

This sets a bad precedent. My comments are below.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowpocalypse Help

Another day, another Winter Storm Warning. Here is the latest. We haven't seen anything like this since 1979. The General Assembly session was cancelled on Friday for the first time in anyone's memory. With VDOT's budget already stretched thin and our school's winter snow days exhausted, we will be dealing with the consequences for some time.

Here is information regarding problems with electricity service.

Dominion Resources Power Outage Line
888.667.3000
Dominion Resources Storm Center
Service Restoration Updates

If your street has not been plowed yet, please call my Legislative Aide, Christopher Bea, at 804.698.1044 and we will call VDOT to see what the status is on your street.

I have also begun discussions with elected officials down here about legislatively shortening the mandated school year so that school does not extend into July. We will keep you posted.

UPDATE: Michael & Son is offering free snow removal service for area residents over 65. Please contact them at 800.948.6453 if you are over 65 and need assistance with snow removal.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Right Decision for Virginia

Today, Governor McDonnell announced that he intended to support a budget amendment reversing Governor Kaine's proposal to freeze the Local Composite Index ("LCI"). This decision had the effect of denying Fairfax County $61 million of new education funding and nearly $150 million for all of Northern Virginia. I previously blogged about this in the following articles:


Governor McDonnell should be commended. While the LCI disadvantages Northern Virginia, it is an arrangement that Virginia's jurisdictions agreed upon after negotiations, litigation, and hours of work by hundreds of people. It is at least an impartial and predictable method of determining education funding on an annual basis.

When the Former Governor proposed to use old historically inaccurate data to calculate Fairfax County's school transfer, it harkened back to the days before Baker v. Carr when Fairfax County was denied fair representation in the General Assembly and Congress due to the Assembly's refusal to apportion representation based on actual population.

Governor McDonnell's decision signals to all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth that the existing formula will not be manipulated to benefit regional preferences. I am certain that given that many Hampton Roads jurisdictions and other parts of the Commonwealth will not stand to benefit from reversing Former Governor Kaine's decision, it was a difficult decision for the Governor. I applaud Governor McDonnell for doing the right thing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Working to Save Taxpayer Dollars

The article below appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and the Mount Vernon Voice on February 3, 2010.

We are lucky to live in a forward-looking county that is an international technology leader. Technology — the computer revolution — can help all of us be more efficient and Virginia’s government needs to catch up. Technological approaches can streamline service to the public, and be part of the answer to balancing the budget. As I promised in my campaign, I have introduced several "fixes" that would bring new technologies to state operations and cut state expenditures.

Fairfax County generates over 270,000 traffic and criminal citations each year. Today, officers in police cruisers write out citations by hand in triplicate on carbon paper. One copy goes to the accused person, one to the Police Department and one to the Court. Each of the 270,000 summonses then is entered into a computer.

I introduced legislation with bipartisan support to authorize a $3 fee for an "E-Summons" system enabling officers to laser scan a driver’s license bar code and generate a ticket using a computer and printer in their cruiser. The information would be automatically uploaded to the court’s system, avoid the need for 10 data entry personnel, minimize mistakes, avoid hand-carrying papers to court, speed up payments, and police officers on the street instead of pushing paper.

I also introduced legislation to foster electronic filing of pleadings in Virginia Courts. These systems, used in federal courts and the District of Columbia, eliminate the need for paper pleadings, couriers and filing and data entry clerks. The Courts of Justice Committee in the House of Delegates will consider this legislation this week along with three other bills. Fairfax County is the largest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth with some of the most complex litigation and heavy court dockets. This system would also save tax payers millions.

I also introduced legislation to authorize our courts to install electronic recording systems in every courtroom in the Commonwealth. Currently, courts have either no one keeping a record during the proceeding or in most cases, courts must hire court reporters costing $350 per day. Electronic recording would bring savings to the state and to litigants, and create a record in all proceedings. U.S. District Court in Alexandria has used these systems for over 10 years. My legislation was tabled for this year, but I am working with Fairfax County’s Circuit Court Clerk and Attorney General Cuccinelli to implement these systems in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Electoral Board asked me to introduce legislation requiring the same envelope for absentee voters who vote in the United States and those who vote abroad. Federal law requires a simplified envelope for absentee voters abroad. The existing system results in confusion when counting votes, lost time, unnecessarily printed envelopes and many disqualifed votes. A subcommittee rejected my bill last week because they did not want to conform Virginia law to federal requirements. I will try again next year.

Good government depends on your involvement and you can contact me, comment on legislation or request a meeting on my Web site – http://www.scottsurovell.org/ or read more of my views on my blog "The Dixie Pig" at ScottSurovell.Blogspot.com. Also, don’t hesitate to call me at 571-249-4484.

Mt. Vernon Voice Endorses Fairfax Meals Tax Option

Earlier this session, I introduced HB 830, a bill to give Fairfax County the authority to enact a meals tax without a referendum, but by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. I wrote about the bill in my article Fighting for Education Funding where I explained my rationale - that Fairfax County is over-reliant on residential real estate taxes, that restaurant meals are a luxury already taxed by most surrounding jurisdictions, and that Richmond over-restricts Fairfax County's flexibility.

This option coupled with reversing Governor Kaine's decision to "freeze" the Local Composite Index could cover $140 million of Fairfax County's $176 million school budget hole.

The bill was killed by a subcommittee of the House of Delegates Finance Committee on a 5-2 vote. However, there is other legislation supported by Senator Toddy Puller that passed the Senate on a 25-15 vote that accomplishes the same result.

This week, the Mount Vernon Voice endorsed my efforts and legislation in a lengthy editorial. I have quoted the last few paragraphs below.
None have us HAVE to eat out (although I might argue this point on a personal level). If we want to go to a restaurant, it is our choice not a necessity. And let's be honest. We have never chosen a restaurant in Fairfax over a restaurant in Alexandria becaues that city has a meals tax.

Have you?

Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland has been trying to make this point with his fellow supervisors for some time. Now we are running out of time.

We strongly support Del. Scott Surovell's (D-44th) bill to allow the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to unanimously approve enacting a meals tax without a referendum seeking approval of voters. Sometimes you just to take action.

THIS is the time.


Thank you to the Mount Vernon Voice for stepping up and standing with me on this issue.
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