The following is my column that will exclusively appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette in the week of August 25, 2014.
The Top Three Issues: The Future of U.S. 1, Improving Local Schools, and Helping The UninsuredThere are many issues facing the communities between the Potomac River, Huntley Meadows Park, Fort Belvoir and the City of Alexandria. The top three are U.S. 1, the future of our local schools, and a burgeoning uninsured population.First, our quality of life revolves U.S. 1. The future of U.S 1 not only functions as the spine of our mobility, but it drives housing, retail choices, property values, schools, environmental quality, crime levels, and tax revenue.A year ago, Senator Puller and I secured $2 million to fund the U.S. 1 Multimodal Study and determine the optimal transit, road, pedestrian, cycling, and accompanying land configuration for the U.S. 1 Corridor. That study will come to a conclusion in the next few months.The study is effectively coming down to two choices. One is a dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) system from Huntington Metro to Fort Belvoir. The second choice is a two-stop extension of the Yellow Line with a bus rapid transit system to Woodbridge – this two-pronged solution is being called the “Hybrid Option.”Once the study issues a recommendation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will need to take a vote to agree upon the Locally Preferred Option (“LPA”). Once the LPA is set, additional planning can commence. Achieving this will not only require the Board of Supervisors to agree upon making the redevelopment of U.S 1 a priority – it will require a consensus here in our community between residents, property owners, businesses, and other stakeholders.The BRT option and Hybrid Option present two starkly different choices. Due to the land use choices necessary to support it, the Hybrid Option will bring the maximum benefit to the area. A two-stop Yellow Line extension will bring significant redevelopment to U.S. 1 from Huntington to Hybla Valley and beyond and is what our community needs. Enhanced bus-only transit will not bring the significant redevelopment that will maximize quality of life in this area.Second, the quality of our public schools also depends upon adequate funding. Average Fairfax County teacher pay is $13,000 less than Washington, D.C., $10,000 under Arlington, $8,000 under Alexandria, and only $4,000 more than Prince William. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is facing a $2 billion capital backlog. There are trailers at nearly every school in our community.Last year, thirteen schools in Fairfax County failed accreditation – six were in the 44th District although we only have about 7% of the County’s population. Universal preschool is the long-term key to solving this problem.Additionally, five schools failed accreditation due to new computer-based science Standards of Learning (SOL) Tests. Closing the Digital Divide is recognized as having significant short-term benefit and is urgently needed.Virginia’s other largest jurisdictions are already deploying computers to every child. Henrico County has provided computers to every child since 2001. This week, Chesterfield County issues their first 15,000 Chromebooks. FCPS currently spends $13,472 to educate each child. Computers for every child would cost about $50 million or only $265 per student.There is no question that state funding of secondary education in Fairfax County is lagging. Thanks to the “Sequester,” Virginia’s economy continues to underperform the nation and state revenue is flat, and raging against funding formulas is a futile exercise without fundamental political change in Richmond, so in the medium-term, funding solutions will need to be local. Supervisor Hyland has been a strong voice for local education funding for nearly three decades. He will need all of our support.Finally, our growing uninsured population is a long-term unsolved problem. Nearly 13,000 residents in the 44th District receive healthcare from Medicaid – this includes 9,300 children or 1 in 3 people under age 18 in this community. Each of those 9,300 kids has a parent without health insurance. The 22306 and 22309 zip codes lead Fairfax County in non-serious emergency room visits.Uninsured healthcare expenses drive up premiums for everyone, but no person should have to worry that an unexpected illness will mean they can’t pay their rent. Closing the uninsured gap by expanding Medicaid or any other solution is a critical need in this community.If you disagree with my analysis or priorities, always feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.