Monday, January 31, 2011

Young Leaders in Richmond Today

Today, six students from the 44th District came to Richmond for my Young Leaders Program.

The Young Leaders Program was started by my predecessor Del. Kris Amundson to introduce Mount Vernon's students interested in government and public policy to Richmond and state government.

The group consists of four students from West Potomac High School and two students from Mount Vernon High School. They are meeting with state policymakers, touring the Capitol and the Executive Mansion, observing a floor session, and watching me present legislation in committee.

This morning, they attended a fascinating meeting of the Privileges & Elections Committee, Constitutional Subcommittee. The Subcommittee docket is here.

It was an interesting coincidence, but all three delegates that represent West Potomac High School actually had bills in that subcommittee this morning. The young leaders were able to observe debate on five separate amendments to allow felons to vote, an amendment to constitutionalize our debt limit, Del. David Englin's three amendments to repeal the state's gay marriage ban, Del. Mark Sickles bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, create a "lockbox" for the Virginia Retirement System, allow for our Reconvened Session or "Veto Session" to be adjusted for religious holidays, and my amendment to allow localities to repeal state law. Most of our committees are not that exciting - they picked a good day to come.

Here is my introduction of our Young Leaders on the floor today.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Visitor From Aldersgate

Tuesday, I was honored to be joined on the floor by Rev. Dr. Dennis Perry, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, here in Mount Vernon.

I asked Rev. Perry to deliver the prayer at the opening of Tuesday's floor session. You can find a video of Reverend Perry's prayer below.

After session began, I introduced Rev. Perry to the full house and spoke about the fantastic work Aldersgate does in the Mt. Vernon community. Here's video of my introduction of Rev. Perry.

2011 Surovell Puller Town Hall Meeting

2011 Annual Town Hall Meeting
Senator Toddy Puller & Delegate Scott Surovell

Saturday, January 29, 2011
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Mount Vernon Government Center

For Information Call 571.249.44TH (4484)

Weekly Column: Streamlining Paperwork, Closing Loopholes, Fighting for U.S. 1 & a Town Hall Meeting

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and the Mount Vernon Voice on January 26, 2011 as part of my series of weekly colums.

Streamlining Paperwork, Closing Loopholes, Fighting for U.S. 1 & a Town Hall Meeting
In the General Assembly in Richmond, we are in Week #2 of the General Assembly and the legislative process is moving at a furious pace.

I have introduced fifteen bills and six budget amendments. In addition, several other delegates introduced bills on my behalf as well. Two of my bills have cleared committee and are set to move to the full House of Delegates and on to the Senate.

One allows a parent in Juvenile Court to file one custody and visitation petition for their children in a consolidated case. The courts currently require separate custody and visitation petitions for each child, meaning that in two-child family, a parent just file four petitions and open four cases. My legislation will reduce paperwork, litigation expenses, taxpayer expenses, and just makes common sense.

My second bill clarifies that Commonwealth’s Attorneys have the authority to prosecute first offense infractions involving refusal of mandatory breath or blood tests in Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) prosecutions. First offense Refusal is a civil infraction and the law does not clearly authorize the involvement of a Commonwealth’s Attorney. The Supreme Court of Virginia is presently considering a case that could jeopardize all such prosecutions in Virginia over the next year. My legislation would prevent that decision from preventing future prosecutions.
I presented three of my six budget amendments on Monday: (1) funds for the U.S. 1 Transit Study; (2) an amendment to help purchase a van for Mount Vernon At Home; and (2) funds for a small grant to Fairfax County to expand their “Senior Centers Without Walls” program. They will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee over the next two weeks.

My bill to correct the loophole that decriminalized passing school buses because of the missing word “at” was approved by a House subcommittee and is moving as well.
Transportation is a major focus of this session. The Commonwealth Transportation Board decides which projects to fund . The current commissioners represent areas based on 1930’s congressional district lines. Virginia’s suburban areas have 62 percent of the state’s population and three of nine of the regional commissioner positions on the Board. I introduced legislation to reallocate those seats using current congressional districts so that representation would be fair. The Governor’s Staff is presently analyzing restructuring so my legislation was referred to the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform.

I have received responses to my 2011 Constituent Survey from 550 households so far. Please complete my survey and save some taxpayer resources by completing it online at The survey covers a range of issues including transportation funding solutions, how to improve our schools, what the County should require if they authorize the new Costco, energy efficiency legislation, and many other issues.

In terms of responses I’ve received so far, the condition of the economy, transportation and education are Mount Vernon residents’ top concerns by far. Large majorities of respondents oppose further cuts in services such as education, transportation and health care. Raising teacher salaries is the number one suggestion for improving Mount Vernon’s schools. A large majority of respondents support Costco coming to U.S. 1 only if adequate transportation improvements are made. Extending the Yellow Line from Huntington to Fort Belvoir is the preferred mode of transit on U.S. 1 by far. I appreciate your feedback and I also hope it will help you learn more about the issues I am working on every day in Richmond.

This Saturday, January 29, at 10:00 a.m., Senator Puller and I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting at the Mount Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306 to hear your views, suggestions and questions. I hope to see a full room.

Please also visit my blog, The Dixie Pig, at, for more frequent updates. You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at

Good government requires your involvement so please be in touch or come visit in Richmond so I can best represent you in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 Budget Amendments: U.S. 1 Transit Study, Seniors, Tourism, & Helping Virginia Businesses

My press release for my 2011 Budget Amendments is below. The include the following:
  • Funding the U.S. 1 Transit Study
  • $10,000 to Mount Vernon At Home to purchase a van to transport seniors to appointments, activities, and daily needs.
  • $15,000 to the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation to hire additional staffing to coordinate tourism between Mount Vernon's various tourist assets.
  • $5,000 to Fairfax County for its Senior Center Without Walls Program.
  • Budget language to extend my legislation from last year to level the playing field for Virginia businesses by requiring out-of-state companies who bid on Virginia procurements to follow Virginia's rules.

Scott Surovell 2011 Budget Amendments Press Release

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Government Mandates From Richmond

Today, we had a lively debate on the House Floor regarding HB 1416. Among other things, this bill requires localities to spend at least 65% of their school budgets on instruction.

The floor sponsor, Delegate Loupassi from Richmond, said that Fairfax County spends 85% of its monies on instruction presently. I have not had a chance to check that, but it sounds about right.

The bill suffers from many defects. First, there are all kinds of definitions of "instructional spending" and it is not clear what constitutes "administrative costs." As the Chairman of the House Education Committee argued on the floor - do you count guidance counselors are instructional? What about Vice-Principals who do discipline? What about coaches who do the play productions or the debate coach? None of this is defined right now and we would be giving the State Board of Education to draw up the rules.

Fairfax County has a $2.2 billion school budget that is larger than the budgets of over three dozen countries, has a bus fleet larger than most localities, and deals with one of the most multi-national populations in the United States. Over-broad, one-sized fits all rules for the state that treats Fairfax County like all other jurisdictions - including jurisdictions with populations with as little as 40,000 people - can have unintended consequences.

The entire debate is ironic given that we have heard so much about big government mandates and the Governor's inaugural comments that government closest to the people knows best. From my point of view, while well-intentioned, this is not something Fairfax County Public Schools needs right now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weekly Column: Attacking U.S. 1 Gridlock

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on January 17, 2011:

Attacking U. S. 1 Gridlock in Richmond
Returning from my first week in Richmond for the 2011 session of the General Assembly, I talked with several U.S. 1 business owners. With the possible opening of Costco adding 5,000 new vehicles per day, on top of the new Kings Crossing Wal-Mart, thousands of new jobs coming to Fort Belvoir and continued growth, everyone had the same question – when will U.S. 1 be widened?

The bottom line is not for a while, but Senator Toddy Puller and I are doing everything we can in Richmond to jumpstart the process.

Here is a primer. U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System (NHS) but is maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Fairfax County’s long-term plan for U.S. 1 calls for U.S. 1 to incorporate some kind of transit into its next design – either a Yellow Line Metro extension, light rail, or bus rapid transit.

Before any kind of highway design can be requested, the center of U.S. 1 or “centerline” must be established and approved by both the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA will not approve a centerline contemplating transit until a transit study has addressed the economic and engineering feasibility of the transit options contemplated by the proposed centerline to ensure that transit is not a waste of money for the particular area.

In 1994, then-Delegate Toddy Puller pushed through legislation authorizing VDOT to complete a centerline study from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. That study was completed in 2009, but it did not adopt a U.S. 1 centerline from Woodlawn to Alexandria because no one would commit the funding for the necessary transit study.
The transit study is the first step to fixing U.S. 1. After the transit study is complete, an environmental impact study must be funded and completed. Once that is completed, funding must be identified for engineering and constructing the road. VDOT has a six-year and 12-year plan for road improvements. U.S. 1 is currently on neither. In addition, the cost of Metro or light rail is so high that extraordinary funding sources will be necessary.

Obtaining the funding for the U.S. 1 transit study is my number one priority this session. A few weeks ago, I gave a rush hour driving tour of U.S. 1 to the new VDOT Administrator for the Northern Virginia and a representative from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT). Last November, I wrote to Virginia’s Transportation Secretary urging support for the U.S. 1 transit study when the McDonnell Administration identified $1 billion to spend on transportation due to policy changes they called an “audit.” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova also asked the Governor to prioritize funding for the U.S. 1 transit study.

Senator Puller and I have also contacted the Secretary of Transportation and the Director of DRPT in the last week and requested their support for funding the study. I also spoke with Governor McDonnell on the first day of the session and he assured me that he especially understood the need given his familiarity with Mount Vernon and he promised to look into it. I also spent thirty minutes with the Governor’s Economic Development Team this past Monday. Senator Puller has introduced a new study
resolution I cosponsored and we are both sponsoring budget amendments to allocate the funding to achieve it. Though the budget is tight, funds may be available.

Please complete my 2011 survey at, and visit my blog, The Dixie Pig, at, for more frequent updates. You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at

On Saturday, January 29, at 10:00 a.m., Senator Puller and I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting at the Mount Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306 to hear your views, suggestions and questions. I hope to see you there.

Good government requires your involvement so please be in touch so I can best represent you in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

Monday, January 17, 2011

To Renew or Not to Renew - That is the Question?

Two years ago, I got the call I'd been waiting for since I turned 18 - I was off the waiting list for the Redskins. Of course, the team had become something very different from the team I had known as a kid.

Two years ago, I deferred. Then last year the call came again - time to post up and buy your tickets or you're off the list. I finally decided to bite.

I was able to go to about half the home games and had some great memories - getting blown out by Michael Vick in the rain, lots of interceptions and botched plays, losing to Dallas, a quarterback controversy, an overpaid lazy multi-millionaire laying on the field and refusing to get up because he was tired or something.

I did get to take my girls to a couple games and they enjoyed doing something different

Last week, I got the letter - post up $1,343 for 2 tickets for next year, a parking pass, and a shipping fee.

I also share some Nats' seasons tickets with a group, but I have a little more patience for the Nats, and their owner doesn't drive me crazy so I can sleep at night with those. Plus, baseball on TV isn't like the real thing. Neither is football, but my living room isn't a bad place to suffer. Posting up $1,343 for the Skins has me realy second guessing myself.

Should I renew or not renew?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pitting Higher Education v. Transportation

When I was a student at JMU from 1989-1993 the country was in the grips of a horrible recession. Governor Wilder was running for President and refused to raise taxes and massive cuts hit the state budget. We got mid-year tuition surcharges at JMU, classes were cancelled, class sizes went up, and all construction was cancelled.

At the time, JMU was a growing school and we needed new buildings. In my senior year, the General Assembly passed a large bond initiate to "catch up" the construction that had been deferred. Normally, education buildings at colleges are paid for with cash from the General Fund. Other university buildings, student unions, dorms, and athletic facilities are paid with student fees.

In 1992, Governor Wilder proposed to spend several hundred million taxpayer dollars on a new Redskins stadium at Potomac Yards. I remember being apoplectic thinking that the Governor cared about the Redskins more than colleges (although sometimes I wonder if the location would not have been better).

The state passed a $900 million higher education bond initiative in 2002 and a $1.6 billion higher education bond intiative in 2007.

This is consisent with state history. Over the last 10 years, 43% of Virginia's bond capacity has been used or higher education. The uses of tax supported debt over the last ten years is shown here on the right (click on the picture to enlarge it).
However, due to HB 3202 passed on the eve of the last Virginia Senate election back in 2007 (before I was elected), the State's use of tax-supported debt, and especially debt for roads, has been exploding. In fact, last year, Virginia hit its debt limit and was not allowed to issue further debt even though additional debt was authorized. This chart on the left taken from the 2010 Report of the State Debt Advisory Committee shows it.

Last fall, the State Debt Advisory Committee looked into changing the way Virginia calculates its debt limit and decided to change the formula resulting in additional debt capacity. You can read that report here. The biggest change was to base the debt limit on a 10-year revenue average instead of looking at the last two years.

After the committee green-lighted more borrowing, Governor McDonnell immediately proposed to compress the next 8 years of authorized transportation borrowing into the three years of his Governor's term.

Most of the debate has focused upon the fact that this is a one-time road fix and not a long-term sustainable model. While that is true and a valid criticism, no one has pointed out is that this will consume most of Virginia's current remaining estimated borrowing capacity.

This means that Virginia will have little bonding "bandwidth" traditionally used for higher education. College construction - one-time expenditures - will put even more pressure on the General Fund that has not existed over the last 20 years. After starting many new colleges after WWII, Virginia has not started construction on a new college in two decades. This is why some kids from Northern Virginia cannot get into UVA, Tech, or JMU with a 4.0 GPA. Limiting our ability to expand our colleges is not wise - we are already behind.

The new model only leaves about $700 million of excess debt capacity remaining through 2020 with current authorized borrowing. That is a tiny margin of error given prior needs.

The Governor has also proposed to divert even more of the General Fund - sales taxes and a large portion of General Fund revenue increases exceeding the average annual increase to the Transportation Trust Fund.

This is the same as using all of your credit card limits to pay for a massive addition to your house right now at the same time you are committing 75% your future salary raises to more home improvements. This would require pay all of your remaining future living expenses which go up with inflation on only 25% of your future raises. None this contemplates the possibility that we get kneecapped by another recession. Flexibility in future budgeting is typically a good thing - committing future revenue can be extremely risky as all of the recent foreclosures demonstrate.

Virginia has run as a fiscally responsible, long-term oriented, pay-as-you-go state for the last 90 years and been rewarded with a AAA bond rating and repeated awards as the best managed state in the country. This kind of budget gimmickry is short-term thinking and irresponsible and unsustainable.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Power to the People & Stimulating Ideas

Today, I introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would permit localities representing 2/3rd of the population of Virginia to repeal a provision of state law upon passing identical resolutions within a twenty-four month period. You can read the bill here.

Virginia adheres to the Dillon Rule - the idea that localities can only exercise the powers that are granted to them by State Government. This bill would result in a very small modification of that concept.

When the budget heads south, state government frequently passes the buck on budget decisions to local governments instead of making difficult choices themselves. For example, last session the State reduced the per diem that it transfers to localities for housing state prisoners. This alone cost Fairfax County $5 million per year. Last year's budget actions transferred $20 million per year of responsibilities to Fairfax County. Spread that across the entire state and real money is in play.

Pursuant to this proposed amendment localities representing 5.3 million Virginians could repeal a provision of state law. If Virginia's largest localities were to unanimously agree, a repeal could not be effective without dozens of small localities or nearly all of Virginia's mid-tier population jurisdictions consent - a tall burden. Inversely, it is impossible to get over 5.3 million Virginians without one of the six largest jurisdictions in Virginia (Fairfax, Virginia Beach, Prince William, Chesterfield, Loudoun or Henrico). In other words, an issue would have to garner broard urban-suburban-rural or Democratic and Republican support.

This proposed authority would not be successfully invoked unless the legislature were to seriously overstep the public's will. It would improve fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability and empower localities like Fairfax County that are frequently forced to fund mandates from the state.

Also, this amendment would promote the discussion of state policy throughout the Commonwealth. The General Assembly does not have a monopoly on ideas. If localities could play a small role in revising state law, more people would have an opportunity to generate ideas and be heard. It is a minor change to state-locality relations and I hope it receives a robust discussion.

You can watch my interview yesterday on the NBC12 below or read my press release on the bill below that.

HJ 604 Press Release 1-11-11

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gifford Shooting: Another Canary Dies in the Coalmine of our Broken Mental Health System

Yesterday, I attended our three-hour Northern Virginia Delegation Public Hearing today at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Like last year's meeting, it was a long line of heroic children, families, and people who cope with struggles that I can never begin to comprehend on a daily basis asking us to do all we can not to harm them further with budget cuts. It was a stark reminder to me that government is important, impacts people's lives, and does much to help lift those who are most in need.

After the hearing, I went home to my family to spend some time with my kids before an event I had in the afternoon when I learned about the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge, a child, and over a dozen other victims.

Soon enough, we will find out more about the shooter and his motivations, but there's no question that someone who opens fire on an elected official, a federal judge, a ten year-old, and dozens of innocent people suffers from serious mental illness. We will soon learn where this man's weapon, whether his purchase was legal, and whether he was ever involved in the mental health system.