Monday, October 16, 2017

Weekly Column: Four Big Issues No One is Discussing This Election Cycle

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of October 16, 2017.
Four Big Issues No One is Discussing This Election Cycle
Virginians go to the polls in three weeks and if you followed the new cycle, you would think that the next General Assembly Session is going to be all about Confederate Statutes, street gangs and natural gas pipelines – none of which is accurate.  Here are four big issues facing Virginia that have been missing in action this cycle. 
Hyper-partisan legislative districts are at the root the partisan gridlock we see today.  While the Senate Democratic Caucus drew Virginia’s Senate districts in 2010, Virginia’s congressional and legislative districts were otherwise drawn by Republicans majorities with the cooperation of Republican governor’s in 2000 and 2010.  Democratic voters have been crammed into a small number of seats and Virginia’s Congressional and House of Delegates districts are way out of proportion to Virginia’s actual voting.
Virginia’s next Governor will participate in Virginia’s next redistricting process.  Ralph Northam and I have repeatedly endorsed and voted for non-partisan redistricting which would go a long way towards voters picking their leaders instead of leaders picking their voters.

Metro Funding 
Metro is facing a $15 billion cash shortfall over the next ten years that must be resolved by Virginia, Maryland and the District.  There is plenty of blame to go around, but little discussion about viable solutions.
The future of our region’s growth, including economic development lies in a viable Metro.  All of the construction cranes in Northern Virginia are next to Metro stations.  Transit is our future.
While Virginia cannot choose a solution on our own, the negotiations must be led by our Governor in conjunction with our legislature which is controlled by downstate interests.  This problem will not be solved without state money and there has been little public discussion about solutions in the race.
In 2013, we passed the first transportation tax increase since 1985.  The measure only funded about twenty-percent of Virginia’s long-term transportation funding needs.  Subsequently, we has become entirely dependent upon private toll road expansions to pay for road widenings – and high tolls that are mainly used by those who can afford to use them and not everyone.
The improvements planned in Fairfax County’s stretch of U.S. 1 are slated to cost $2.1 billion - we have identified funding for a fraction of that.  Last year, several Northern Virginia counties alone submitted lists of funding requests that totaled more than the entire amount of money available for all of Northern Virginia.  Statewide, we have multiple mega projects will are likely to suck up huge sums – Metro, Hampton-Roads Bridge Tunnel, I-64 widening, I-95 widening and Higher Speed Rail including a new Potomac River rail bridge and tunnel at I-395.    Quantifying the unfunded need in terms of a gas tax would be equivalent to about a $1.00 per gallon tax over twenty years. 
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Interstate 95 at the Occoquan are once again congested every day – both after being widened.  We are not going to build our way out of this problem, and sticking our head in the sand is not going to solve it either.
Coal AshLast session, we passed legislation placing a one-year moratorium on permitting for Virginia’s four coal ash dumps in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to facilitate a formal assessment to provide the legislature with better information about options before making a decision.  The results of the assessments are scheduled for release next month.
The next legislature will need to decide whether to allow millions of tons of coal ash to simply be buried in perpetuity in leaky landfills within yards of major waterways or whether to facilitate either recycling or removal.  This has already cost over $300 million to cleanup and the ultimate result could cost ratepayers (you) between $1-3 billion in closure costs, but also has many long-term health, environmental and economic benefits.
There has been no discussion about these issues this cycle, but I plan to head back to Richmond looking for solutions.  Please email me at if you have any feedback.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

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