Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weekly Column: Young Leaders Visit, Fighting for Fair Transportation Funding and Improving Access to Childcare

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on February 3, 2011:

The legislative session is now moving at a furious pace. On Monday, I presented one bill at 7:00 a.m., a bill and a budget amendment at 8:30 a.m., another bill at 10:00 a.m., our caucus met at 11:30 a.m., and our floor session ran for two hours at noon. Our committees are all pressing to complete action on bills so that they can be heard before next “Crossover Day” next Tuesday when the House and Senate swap bills.
Also, I was honored by a visit from my Young Leaders this week. Delegate Amundson started the Young Leaders Program and we restarted it this year. I was visited by four students from West Potomac and two from Mount Vernon. The program introduces students to state policy and state government. The students met several policy makers, myself and Senator Puller, attended committee hearings, and watched a floor session. During one committee hearing, they were able to observe debate on repealing the state gay marriage ban, a constitutional limit on state debt, and restoration of felon voting rights. They are now beginning to work on a project as a result of their visit. I appreciate the support of Cox Communications who helped to cover the program’s cost.
My bills are also moving through the system. Although not adopted, several of my bills were referred for study. The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) decides which transportation projects to fund in Virginia. It has ten commissioners representing each transportation district and four at-large members who represent the interests of transit, rail, airports, and ports. The transportation districts are based on the 1930’s congressional district lines, plus a Northern Virginia seat that was added in 1985. Presently, the three urban/suburban districts have 62% of the state’s population and 3 of 10 votes. The rural districts have 38% of the state’s population and 7 of 10 votes.
My legislation requires the commissioners to be appointed based upon congressional districts. It would more than triple Northern Virginia’s current representation plus help Hampton Roads and Richmond. It would give Northern Virginia the seat at the table that it deserves. The Governor’s Office and Transportation Subcommittee agreed this needs to be addressed so it was referred to the Governor McDonnell’s Government Reform Commission for further study.
Senator Puller’s U.S. 1 Transit Study resolution is moving through the Senate and the Secretary of Transportation continues to assure me that my budget amendment to fund it should be included in the final budget. I am hopeful we are finally seeing some progress.
During my campaign, I noted that there were fourteen preschools east of U.S. 1 and not a single preschool or childcare center on the west side of U.S. 1 (Woodlawn, Janna Lee, Hybla Valley & Groveton) in my district. After several meetings of my Preschool and Childcare Working Group, I introduced legislation this year to ask the Department of Social Services to study ways to maximize federal childcare matching funds and increase the availability of subsidized childcare in Virginia. There are 20,000 children on Virginia’s subsidized childcare waiting list and 2,000 in Fairfax County – many of which are in the U.S. 1 Corridor. Making high quality childcare and preschool more affordable and available to families in our community is critical to improving our school performance. My legislation was amended and then tabled this year with a commitment from the Department to further study the measure over the next year and revisit the issue in 2011.
About 100 constituents attended my Town Hall Meeting with Senator Toddy Puller on Saturday, January 29. We had a two-hour discussion on a wide variety of topics ranging from redistricting, retirement benefits, and education funding to the extension of the Yellow Line and transit expansion. It was great to be back home and get some feedback on how we are doing.
Also, nearly 700 households have responded to my constituent survey. Improving the economy, working on transportation and education were the top three issues. A majority of respondents did not favor further cuts to the state budget and said we should consider raising taxes. A majority of respondents also favored some form of modest tax increase for transportation. If you are interested, I will be posting more complete results on my blog, The Dixie Pig at over the next two weeks. You can also continue to submit feedback online at
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.

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