Current Position: State Delegate for District 39 since 1982
Vivian Watts was first elected Delegate for the 39th District in 1982. The 39th District includes the city of Annandale and parts of Fairfax County.
Delegate Watts is Chair of the House Finance Committee and is a member of the Courts of Justice, Rules, and Transportation committees. From 1986 to 1990, Vivian Watts was Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth.
The interview below occurred during the 2020 General Assembly.
– January 22, 2021
RICHMOND — Virginia Democrats took aim at a member of the state’s new bipartisan redistricting commission as it prepared for its first meeting Thursday evening, with one lawmaker writing legislation to enable the panel to remove a Republican appointee who made comments on social media that used crude language and disparaged women.
Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) filed a bill Friday to allow the commissioners to vote to remove a member for “neglect of duty or gross misconduct.”
Her target, she said, was Jose A. Feliciano Jr. of Fredericksburg, one of eight citizens appointed to the commission earlier this month by a panel of retired judges, who chose from names nominated by leaders of the General Assembly.
– January 26, 2021
The leaders of the General Assembly finance committees are laying the groundwork now for a hard look at Virginia tax policy—particularly how the state taxes income—for possible action as early as next year after election of a new governor and House of Delegates.
Senate Finance Chairwoman Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said Tuesday that she is forming a special joint subcommittee to look at the state’s income tax and whether to make it more progressive by tying tax rates more closely to how much income people earn.
On the other side of the assembly, House Finance Chairwoman Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, is pushing for a detailed study of Virginia’s income tax by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission—over the objection of Republicans who hope to win back the governor’s office and House majority in elections in November.
– March 1, 2021
After more than a month of back-and-forth debate, the Virginia General Assembly voted last weekend to allow businesses whose Paycheck Protection Program loans were forgiven last year, or who received one of the state’s Rebuild Virginia grants, to deduct up to $100,000 on their 2020 tax returns for eligible expenses paid for by the loans and grants.
Del. Vivian Watts, chair of the House Finance Committee, had proposed allowing up to $25,000 in expense deductions for individual filers, saying it would target the relief to small businesses most. The Senate version first allowed up to $50,000 and then was amended to up to $100,000. Both added Rebuild Virginia grant recipients to their bills, too.
Watts said the impasse became moot after Feb. 15, when the state’s regular review of its budget projections showed stronger than anticipated tax revenue. That new forecast showed that an additional $410 million in revenue could be added to the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget.
Source: Campaign page
As your Delegate in the state legislature, I face the challenge of acting on your behalf on a great many items from taxes to health care to school funding to crime to the environment. I value your opinions and constantly learn from your experiences to help me serve more effectively.
- Secretary of Transportation
1986 to 1990
State Agencies under Secretariat:
Transportation, Corrections, State Police, Motor Vehicles, Alcoholic Beverage Control, Correctional Education, Military Affairs, Emergency Services, Criminal Justice Services, Parole Board, Aviation, Fire Programs, Alcohol Safety Action Program, Commonwealth’s Attorneys Services, (Virginia Port Authority prior to 7/88).
Exercised budgetary and legislative oversight for
29,395 employees, $2.77 billion in annual operating funds, and $100 million annually in building construction, and addition to highway and transit construction.
Major Secretarial initiatives
Gained legislative approval of 1/2 billion dollar annual state transportation revenue increase;
Initiated and carried out prison construction on 13 sites resulting in a 45% capacity increase;
Chaired Northern Virginia sub-regional transportation plan adoption;
Chaired negotiations for 80% private funding of $140 million public road improvement;
Private toll Road Corporation authorized and granted a franchise.
Commuter Rail agreement reached involving 4 railroads, 6 localities, Virginia, and Congress.
Congressional approval to establish the Washington Area Airport Authority. Dulles selected as site for the National Air and Space Museum expansion.
Average highway construction project time cut 20%. Anti-fraud contract monitoring unit established.
Annual $10 million aviation safety improvement and service expansion program developed.
Statewide emergency hazardous material response and training program established.
Computerized fingerprint identification instituted.
Prison escape rate and use of overtime brought to unprecedented low levels.
Prison literacy program established. Prison mental health program achieved accreditation.
Statistical model tracking 122 separate trends instituted to predict prison population growth. 10-year Prison Construction Master Plan developed.
1990 to 1993
TRANSPORTATION AND FINANCE – Clients included National Institute of Corrections, National League of Cities, Arthur Anderson Consulting, Ernst & Young, and National Association of Public Administration.
U.S. ADVISORY COMMISSION ON INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS
1990 to 1994
Author of two books on Criminal Justice through U.S. Department of Justice grant.
- Executive Director
1993 to 2000
University of Michigan
English major with minors in Mathematics and Psychology, cum laude
Birth Year: 1940
Place of Birth: Detroit, MI
Spouse: David A. Watts
Children: Cynthia Simpson and Jeffery E.
Membership & Affiliation: Arlington Unitarian Church
Fairfax Area League of Women Voters (former president)
Salvation Army (board member)
Arts Council of Fairfax County
Legislative Assistant: Aaron Yohai
Administrative Assistant During Session: Cindy Burkholder and B. Kelley
- Government – DelVWatts@house.virginia.gov
900 E. Main St,
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Phone: (804) 698-1039
8717 Mary Lee Lane
Annandale, VA 22003
Phone: (703) 978-2989
Summary of bills introduced by Delegate Vivian Watts.
2019 State Delegate
|Vivian E. Watts (D)||15,769||68.35%|
|Nick O. Bell (R)||7,248||31.42%|
2017 State Delegate
|Vivian Watts (D)||21,407||92.6%|
Source: Department of Elections
WATTS, VIVIAN E has run in 11 races for public office, winning 11 of them. The candidate has raised a total of $958,003.
Source: Follow the Money
Child Support Guidelines Review Panel
Criminal Justice Diversion
Criminal Law Subcommittee
House Courts of Justice
House Science & Technology
Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability
Mental Health Services in the Twenty-First Century, Joint Subcommittee to Study
See: Vote Smart
Fiscal integrity. Maintain Virginia’s AAA bond rating. Don’t raid education, Medicaid funding, environmental clean-up, funds for transportation. Create jobs.
HOW NATIONAL NEWS PLAYS OUT IN VIRGINIA
The continuing threat of federal budget cuts plagues Virginia’s economy. We benefit more than any other state with 30% of our economy driven by federal contracts and jobs. Therefore, we could lose more and the looming uncertainty of whether we will plays out in a number of ways:
- Unemployment: National unemployment dropped from 7.3% to 5.5% in the last 2 years (through 2014), while Virginia’s barely changed, hovering at 4.9%. Businesses in Northern Virginia and around the military presence in Hampton Roads are very cautious about expanding.
- Economic growth: Virginia’s economy is flat compared to 2.2% growth nationwide in 2014.
- National rankings: Virginia’s slipped from the #1 best state to do business 5 years ago to #12 today, largely because of our economy and lack of transportation investment. We may be further down-graded because of public policy instability, which boiled over in the refusal to confirm a governor’s Supreme Court appointment for the first time in 114 years.
Virginia’s challenges are very different from the federal government’s. Our budget must be balanced. We can’t run up a deficit …we can’t print money.
Therefore, every time we pass a budget, we must project what state tax revenues will be more than 2 years out. Typically, we underestimate income rather than over-commit spending …Virginia is not California. In fact, Virginia consistently is ranked at the top of all states for the quality of our economic management.
State revenue reports finally turned around in mid-March 2015, giving us a $538.5 million budget surplus, instead of the $2 billion shortfall we faced if we hadn’t made hard cuts in September 2014 to education, nursing homes, law enforcement, and state agencies across the board. By law, this surplus goes to replenish the Rainy Day Fund — which had fallen to less than 1/4 million from over $1 billion in 2007-08 — and 10% for infrastructure to improve water quality. Almost 60% of the increased revenue that produced the year end surplus came from non-payroll individual income tax payments. We don’t know at this time whether those payments reflect robust stock market capital gains prior to July 2015 or whether they reflect the recovery of small business entrepreneurs and consultants. The tax gain from increased payrolls was much more modest.
CREATING NEW JOBS
Continuing to diversify our economy is critical. Governor McAuliffe has been a dynamo bringing in new jobs. In his first year, he brought twice as much business investment into Virginia than any Governor ever has. The pace continues with over $7.5 billion brought in to date!
Virginia has great potential to expand high-paying jobs: strong universities, community college workforce development, low taxes (44th per $1000 of personal income and the 2nd lowest employer unemployment tax in the nation), and access to world markets.
Congestion is the greatest impediment to expanding Northern Virginia high-paying jobs, while broad-band internet access is the greatest infrastructure need for areas of the state where there is widespread double-digit unemployment. If we can avoid extremely restrictive stem cell restraints, bio-tech research potential is extremely strong and large pay-offs can come from start-up grants, wet lab construction, and business/academic partnerships.
Finally, Virginia is well-situated to expand green energy related employment from off-shore wind energy to alternative biofuel research centered in Blacksburg and fossil fuel rich Appalachia. We must actively compete to be part of an east coast highspeed rail corridor.
PRESERVING EXISTING JOBS
We need to help small businesses through increased access to business loans, reducing government paperwork, increasing state and local outreach to bid on government contracts, and dealing with health insurance.
Some believe job stimulus programs should just target public construction projects. As critical as transportation needs are, a nursing home job, a state police position, a teacher, etc., etc. are just as important as a construction job. If state or local governments do not have funds, these jobs will be cut.
THE CHALLENGE OF POVERTY
Virginia has one of the greatest spreads between wealth and poverty of any state. Despite long-standing poverty, welfare reform in 1996 cut by half the number of Virginians qualifying for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). The amount families receive has only been increased once in 23 years.
The most crucial need is to expand Medicaid to cover 400,000 Virginians – 70% of whom work but earn less than $32,000 for a family of four or $15,302 for one person. Beyond the humanity of expanding healthcare, here are the dollars and cents facts:
- Adults whose only source of health care is the emergency room drive up hospital costs and insurance rates for all.
- Expansion would use managed care to prevent problems from getting worse and more costly to treat, as well as under-cutting a wage-earner’s ability to support his or her family.
- Virginians have already paid the federal taxes to fund expansion and are getting nothing in return. In fact, we are losing between $4 and $5 million a day.
- Expansion would create over 30,000 jobs.
- We cannot attract employers into rural areas where hospitals are closing.
HOW BAD HAS VIRGINIA BEEN HIT SINCE 2007?
When we began cutting state spending in 2007, well-before most states faced reality, Virginia was 37th in state spending per person. Therefore, ultimately, we had to cut basic programs, including local public schools which still receive less per pupil in 2015 than in 2009. Even though Virginia spends less than almost every other state on Medicaid, 15% of state taxes go to match the federal Medicaid dollars we receive. Indeed, public safety is the only area of state spending where we exceed national averages. Of great importance, about 50% of the state budget goes to local governments for schools, jails, mental health, emergency services, police, and car tax relief. Cutting such state support to localities puts severe pressure on local real estate taxes.
Fiscal integrity must be maintained which has earned Virginia our long-standing AAA bond rating and rank of best-managed state. Open processes with full discussion of alternative economic viewpoints and actuarial projections are essential – no blue smoke and mirrors.
Maintaining adequate transportation funding through fees on all users is essential. Beneficiaries of transportation improvements should bear the cost and it is wrong to raid the General Fund at the expense of public education, mental health, nursing home care, environmental protection, or job creation initiatives.
Cuts in state funding for local governments must be equitably applied and not single-out Northern Virginia. I’m a “numbers person” and know the devil is in the details. I will use my tenacity and knowledge of funding formulas to make sure that Fairfax County is not unfairly impacted by population caps or cost-of-living manipulation in proposals to change state funding for K-12 education, court functions, mental health, or social service delivery.
Our $52 billion FY15 annual approved budget is split between 2 funds. The General Fund is $19 billion and used to pay for basic state government operations. 35% goes to pay for K-12 education, followed by state expenditures for Medicaid (14%); police, courts, and prisons; higher education (6%); mental health and other human services; and car tax relief (3%). Money to fund these programs comes from sources everyone pays: individual income taxes (65%), the sales tax (20%), business taxes, lottery and ABC store profits, liquor and cigarette taxes, and court fees).
Most of the rest of the budget – $33 billion in the Non-General Fund – comes from and goes to specific areas. Federal dollars must be used for programs such as Medicaid (41%). College tuition payments and hospital charges go to the institutions (23%). The gas tax and vehicle fees are designated for transportation.
Since 2007, Non-General Fund revenue has increased substantially more than General Fund as we dealt with the economic downturn by increasing fees (especially tuition) not raising taxes as many state did. In addition, the 2013 transportation funding increases are all Non-Ggeneral Fund.
- Eliminated the estate tax (2007)
- Cut the food tax 2½ cents (as of July 2005)
- Increased state income tax personal deduction to $900 instead of $800. (2006 Tax Year)
- Increased the 2.5¢ per pack cigarette tax to 30¢ (March 2005)
- Closed major corporate tax loopholes regarding holding companies. (July 2004)
In the decade from July 1999 to July 2008, the general fund budget grew 80%. However, taking inflation (29%) and population (12%) growth into account, the actual growth was 23%.
The three largest State spending initiatives were:
- setting aside money for a Rainy Day Fund
- growth in Car Tax Relief from $220 million to $950 million where it’s been capped
- use of general tax funds for transportation which grew from $44 million to $150 million
These three areas of increased spending totaled $1.2 billion or about 7% of the total General Fund budget.
Other areas that grew more than inflation and population:
- The Medicaid inflation-adjusted increase was 53%.
- This was slightly more than the 48% inflationary growth in medical care because Virginia significantly increased the number of children of the working poor covered by insurance. Matching funds for Medicare Part D also increased state spending.
- Federal mandates including
- No Child Left Behind Act and special education funding requirements,
- environmental programs such as the Clean Water Act,
- enforcement of court-ordered child support payments, and
- the Real ID Act
- The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement brought in more that $581 million since the program began in FY2000 to be used for replacement job creation and health.
- Debt service fund grew 134% to $244 million reflecting the State’s increased issuance of bonds used mainly for construction-related expenses for toll roads and universities.
We also increased state funding to reduce waiting lists for mental health and mental disability services. In addition, we increased the state share of funding for local schools to better reflect what localities actually pay.
The higher education fund increased 108% to $5.15 billion (14.3% of FY08 budget) is explained by a combination of enrollment growth, increased tuition and fees, and increased revenues at university hospitals. For example GMU general fund appropriate grew from $86 million to $151 million.
I believe it is important to balance the budget but still be able to wisely spend the state’s money to improve transportation, keep class sizes low in our schools, provide the resources that our law enforcement officials need to keep our communities safe, protect our natural resources, make sure everyone has access to the higher education and health care they need, and keep taxes low for its citizens
Virginia has some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. We must make sure that this excellence continues and that there is room for all qualified students coming from Northern Virginia. All post-high school education must be available based on the student’s skill and academic ability — not on ability to pay — through financial aid and alternatives to residential universities. Relevant certification and licensure programs need to be expanded.
Over the years, Virginia’s excellent higher education system has defined Virginia as not just a sleepy southern state. It is a key element of economic development, for example, biotechnology is a major area of research where Virginia is well-situated, whether in medicine, agriculture, communications, marine science, green energy, or basic science. Indeed, many residents coming to this area chose to live in Virginia because of our superior higher education opportunities and know the economic value of a degree drops if the reputation of the university is allowed to drop. With enlightened stewardship, higher education can continue to move Virginia into eminence.
LACK OF FUNDING
However, support for higher education has been seriously eroded. By the academic year ending in 2015, in-state undergrad tuition and fees at Virginia institutions ranked
- 6th highest in the nation for non-doctoral institutions,
- 13th highest for doctoral/research institutions, and
- 17th highest for community college.
After years of trying to make community college an affordable option, Virginia’s tuition and fees are now back to being as expensive compared to other states as they were 20 years ago.
Traditionally, General Assembly policy had been that state funds should cover 75% of the cost for in-state undergrads and 80% for community college students. In 2004, that policy officially changed to in-state, 4-year undergrad students paying not 1/4 but 1/3. (Out-of-state students pay at least 100%.)
Unfortunately, state funding for 4-year schools dropped sharply (in constant dollars) from $10,675 per student in 2000 to just $7,303 in 2009. The harsh reality for families and students throughout the Commonwealth is that, while the official policy that in-state students will pay no more than 1/3 hasn’t been changed, in fact, in-state undergraduate students had to pay more than 1/2 the cost of their education in 2014-15. For many this means life-changing debt.
In 2001-02, total charges for an undergraduate living on campus was 32% of an average Virginian’s after tax income. That measure of the cost that must be bourne by students and their families has climbed sharply. For 2014-15, it was 47%! I must emphasize it is cuts in state funding that are the major cause of this ever-increasing lack of affordability and, therefore, limited access.
We must restore public funding to Virginia’s public colleges and universities. In addition, I believe a portion of any tuition increase that is enacted must always go into increasing the financial assistance available to students.
I applaud the cost-savings of an integrated path for students to complete their first two years in qualified subjects at a community college and, then, be able to complete their degree at a 4-year institution. I also was a strong supporter in 2015 of Virginia (belatedly) joining other states in determining credit for relevant community college courses that should be given for specific military experience. This will enable veterans to earn a degree or certification at less cost and get into skilled jobs faster. Finally, while the need for post-high school education has become ever-more important in gaining meaningful employment, 4-year academic degrees are not the right path for everyone. We must expand licensure and certification programs that are most relevant to employers.
I still enjoy back country camping with my grandsons. I love the beauty and thrills of Virginia’s whitewater. I smile when trillium re-appear behind our house each spring. Especially in times of great change, many of us reach to nature to regain our sense of stability.
But even as Virginia’s lush vegetation, stream valleys, and open waters can be a source of peace, they cannot endure like the ancient Appalachians without our help.
We need to make critical land purchases now to buffer the Chesapeake Bay from run-off. The phenomenal increase in transit use revealed capacity restraints and the need to expand the system. Reducing global warming is critical. Laws to control land use, protect ground water, prevent air and water pollution can’t be effective without sound environmental impact research and the will to enforce them.
ENERGY AND CLEAN AIR
It is past time to adopt significant initiatives including but not limited to: off-shore wind energy; bio-energy research focused on non-food stocks; demand metering that provides readily visible, real time information; green construction; re-cycled product development; safe nuclear generation; and a significant gas tax and/or electronic tolling that reflects the true cost of providing a transportation system that cuts greenhouse gas generation through reduced vehicle usage.
Energy Conservation –Virginia’s voluntary renewable portfolio standard goal of 15% (of 2007 base year) by 2025 should be increased and be made mandatory.
New Energy – Wind turbines in the relatively shallow waters at least 12 miles off Virginia’s coast would capture significantly more steady wind power than the mid-west, avoid migratory birds, not interfere with Navy training, and allow efficient power transmission to population centers. I support a Renewable Portfolio Standard that would require that a certain percentage of the state’s electricity come from renewable resources with preference to zero-emission resources. I oppose drilling for natural gas off Virginia’s coastline … proposals to limit drilling to 30 miles out involves depths at which there are only a handful of wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
Coal-fired power plants – most built in the 1940’s and 50’s – are the greatest source of air pollution in Virginia. Unfortunately, recent federal Clear Skies rules allow these plants to continue to pollute even when they’re upgraded. Other east coast states are reacting by passing state regulations and I believe that Virginia should join these initiatives. Technology could remove 95% of pollutants, equivalent to taking 4 million cars off Virginia roads.
The capacity of the existing Metro system must be increased by fully utilizing the multi-billion dollar track infrastructure through purchasing significantly more cars and making technological and platform modifications to accommodate 8-car trains; maintenance of the 40-year old Metro system is critical; and circumferential expansion of Metro as recommended in the 2020 Plan must commence with identification and purchase of future Metro station sites to be used initially as HOV / SLUG and express bus service (BRT) lots. It is also critical that such collector lots be established as a condition of I-95 HOT lanes construction – if the HOT lanes are constructed before the collector lots, they will significantly increase sprawl at the terminal access points.
Both as a legislative leader in changing the transportation formula and as Secretary, I increased Metro funding 4-fold. I currently co-chair a Senate House Joint Committee on Enhanced Priority Bus Service. I will continue to work for more transit funding. I was shocked in 2005 that the Family Foundation labeled additional money for Metro as anti-family and caused the Senate bill to be killed by a party-line vote in House Finance Committee. I believe users of Virginia roads should pay a larger share of the cost of the transportation system, rather than currently less than half of what they did in 1990.
As Secretary, I chaired a year-long, unprecedented regional effort of top local officials, staff, and citizens that brought land use and transportation plans together for the first time to create a coordinated Northern Virginia Transportation Plan. As chair, I prevailed over VDOT’s objections and insisted that citizen participation be equal to technical staff input. I fully support the update of that plan, which includes a transit corridor between Springfield and Tysons Corner and rail out I-66.
The key to preserving the integrity of designated growth areas and keeping the designation from being undercut by a court challenge is to establish the area upon defensible planning premises that can be and are documented using measurable factors. In addition, an inclusive public processes will help establish broad community acceptance of the principles and hopefully prevent electoral swings in philosophy.
OPEN SPACE AND HISTORIC PRESERVATION
As a conferee, I helped preserve the Land Conservation Tax Credit from the Senate attempt to severely weaken it. It is highly successful in preserving land and is serving as a national model. I believe that we closed developer abuses. It was also important to preserve the ability to sell the credit because of the important incentive this represents to some of the lower income people I represent who back onto streams that are part of the Chesapeake water shed. The Tax Credit can play an important role in helping Virginia meet its commitments under the Chesapeake Bay Interstate Preservation Agreement.
I support transferable development rights, but want to be sure that the sale of the development right is in perpetuity and cannot be reversed by a Master Plan change. Based on my work on the Land Preservation Tax Credit Study, I look forward to taking an active role in assuring that Virginia’s Historic Preservation Tax Credits also are fully implemented.
7,000 miles of Virginia rivers and streams, including our portion of the Chesapeake Bay, are on the national “dirty water” list. We have yet to identify a source of ongoing funding to carry-out our commitment under the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement to remove the Chesapeake Bay from the federal list of impaired waters.
Our efforts have focused on upgrading wastewater treatment plants and working with farmers to reduce agricultural runoff. However, to meet the nitrogen reduction goal, we must improve our efforts to curb nitrogen pollution which involves controlling urban runoff.
In 2000, I supported crucial protection of Virginia’s rivers, marshes, and, of course, the Chesapeake Bay through passage of Non-Tidal Wetlands Protection legislation. Its significance for controlling land use was underscored by how hard it was fought. At one point, a “compromise” proposal would have permitted development of 90% of the Great Dismal Swamp!
A number of poor counties accepted large private trash “dumps” to increase local tax revenue and create jobs. Between 1993 and 1998, the annual increase would fill a line of trash trucks stretching bumper-to-bumper from the Atlantic to the Pacific. By 1999, Virginia had become second in the nation in the amount of out-of-state trash coming into the state, causing concerns about ground water contamination and transport spills. Unfortunately, Congress failed to grant state’s the power to limit trash under interstate commerce and ground water pollution remains a serious concern.
Virginia is dead last in funding for parks and natural areas, which limits their use and proper care.
No solution can be off the table in tackling this major problem; including enhanced transit, increased road capacity, Department of Transportation accountability and management, coordinated land use, private/public financing, user fees that track inflation, increased state and federal funding to Northern Virginia, greater control over Fairfax County roads, intersection improvements, telecommuting, etc.
You know and I know road congestion and maintenance in Northern Virginia has gotten worse and worse! Everyone else knows, too. For two years running, this region has been ranked the MOST congested in the nation. NV rush “hour” is 7 hours long. We spend 67 hours a year tied up in traffic at a cost of $1398 in time and fuel.
It got this bad in large part because the last time Virginia increased state funding was 1987. Every other state increased their gas tax (except the wide-open states of Alaska and Oklahoma.) Revenue from the per gallon gas tax used to fund over half the state’s construction budget – by 2013 it was less than 1/6.
THE FUNDING BREAKTHROUGH
It will take a long time to make up for this refusal to act, which is why I started on such a highly negative note — instead of crowing about the amazing funding breakthrough of 2013 which I spent so many years trying to achieve.
The 2013 General Assembly passed a package of new transportation funding that will raise $1.3 billion a year by 2017. The major driving forces behind this long overdue break-through were:
- Everything else had been tried, including using 80% of transportation borrowing capacity for the next 25 years.
- By 2017, there would be no state money to get 80-90% federal funding for major projects. Federal gas taxes Virginians had paid would go to other states.
- Seriously deteriorating maintenance finally got rural legislators to the table.
- Virginia lost its rank as the best place to do business solely because of congestion in the urban crescent.
The compromise wasn’t simple. The bottom line is:
- What passed provides the sustained annual funding that study after study underscored we must have to address the backlog of basic needs.
- Northern Virginia gets control and serious funding.
- All road users will continue to pay through the gas tax (despite Gov McDonnell’s proposal to eliminate it.)
WHERE IT WILL BE SPENT
Over $300 million a year will be raised in Northern Virginia and constitutionally it must be spent on transportation in Northern Virginia. If it is not, the NV taxes are repealed. Funds must be used for road or transit improvements that reduce congestion. 70% or over $200 million will go to regionwide projects and Northern Virginia – not Richmond – will control what these projects are.
The rest goes back to the NV locality where it was raised. This local 30% also must be spent to address congestion. However, in addition, each local government also must commit funds (equal to a 12.5¢ real estate tax on business properties); however, this locally raised funding can be spent more broadly for any non-maintenance purpose. Fairfax County will control approximately $100 million a year for transportation – half from the bill we passed and half from the required local funding.
For the last 4 years, the State has spent zero on local road improvements. By 2016, state local road construction funds finally will start flowing again. The delay is due to the state taxes being phased-in and an initial $300 million in state funds that went to fund rail to Dulles.
Indeed, transit funding was significantly increased across the board. State transit support will more than double from the current $130 million.
WHERE IT COMES FROM
The 17.5¢ per gallon gas tax that’s been in place since 1987 wasn’t increased. But it will be replaced (starting January 2015) with a tax on the wholesale price so that revenue grows with inflation. (The new tax rate on diesel fuel will increase taxes on trucking, but diesel cars can get a rebate on the difference.) The bulk of the new state revenue comes from the tax on car sales going from the current 3% to 4.15% by July 2016 and from raising the sales tax on non-food items across Virginia from 5% to 5.3%.
In Northern Virginia and in Hampton Roads, the sales tax increases to a full 6%, with the additional amount going to fund transportation in the region where it is raised. Northern Virginia also will use an additional 2% hotel tax and a 15¢ per $100 tax on real estate sales. The total tax package of these three taxes along with the real estate tax on business properties, the value of car purchases, and the gas tax are an attempt to spread the burden of over all road users and factors that increase congestion.
From where I sit, the result of all these changes should support better coordination locally to remove bottlenecks, increase transit use, and deal with the impact of land use decisions. I look forward to working with you and our local officials to reach these goals.
What Northern Virginia Gets From The State
First, the position we gained in 2013 must be constitutionally protected. The reason we stopped getting state construction funds was because in 2002, annual budgets began diverting more and more local construction money to maintenance statewide. By 2008, no local construction money was left.
Unfortunately, constitutional amendments I’ve patroned and co-patroned to protect transportation funds are always killed in the Senate by those who want to divert General Fund tax dollars to fund transportation. Besides the harm to public education and other critical services, using General Funds would be even more unfair to Northern Virginia. Because 65% of the General Fund comes from the income tax, Northern Virginians contribute over 43% of the General Fund , while we only pay about 30% of the transportation fund. In addition, General Fund taxes come only from Virginia taxpayers…the 20% to 30% drivers who aren’t residents get off the hook.
If we keep the current road allocation formula from being over-ridden, the 1985 formula I played a key role in passing automatically increases funding for local secondary roads with annual population growth. NV has approximately 27% of the state population and under the formula gets approximately 25% of the money spent on state construction and transit. About 30% of state transportation revenues are raised in NV.
I continue to try to further close the gap through changing the formula for how primary roads are funded, which I introduced repeatedly from 2002 – 2009. (Primary roads are those numbered under 600 — ie, Rt 123, Rt 236, and Rt 50 — and secondary roads are roads with higher numbers.) My bill would double funding for Northern Virginia primary roads by tying the funding to the number of vehicles miles traveled per lane mile. I refer to this as the “congestion factor.”
My 2007 Newsletter discusses Northern Virginia getting our fair share for transportation. See also floor remarks on Fair Share for Northern Virginia. Also, I did get a bill passed in 2002 (HB771) to ensure that Northern Virginia’s needs are fairly considered on an even playing field. It requires that transportation priorities be established using the same criteria statewide and that transit and road needs be considered side by side.
COORDINATING TRANSPORTATION AND LAND USE
In 2007, we passed measures to tie land use more closely with owners paying for the transportation impact of new development. The effect of these new tools will depend on local governments having the discipline and sophistication to avoid court challenges if they divert funds or make inconsistent zoning decisions.
Equally important, as Secretary, I chaired an unprecedented regional effort that brought land use and transportation plans together for the first time to create a coordinated Northern Virginia Transportation Plan. The NV Transportation Authority’s updates of this regional plan provide an essential foundation to focus the new NV funding we passed in 2013.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR
I believe in finding win/win opportunities for businesses to be full partners in funding congestion solutions. 80% of improving 16 miles of Rt 28 from 2 lanes to expressway capacity was paid for by a tax on business property that I negotiated as Virginia Secretary of Transportation. This is the finance model that is constructing rail to Dulles — supplemented by federal funding and by Dulles Toll Road revenue.
However, I have a love/hate relationship with the Express Lanes. While the immediate benefit has been reduced Beltway congestion, the real potiential is to significantly strengthen regional transit. Extending Metrorail is prohibitively expensive and doesn’t have the flexibility to serve the pattern of development from Springfield to Tysons and from Springfield south. My concern is that the transit potential will only be realized if local governments make the hard decisions to create park and ride lots with convenient access to I-95 and to fund local bus service that meet commuting needs to the major NV employment centers of Tysons, Springfield Mall / EPG / Ft Belvoir, and Mark Center. Otherwise, improving traffic flow only entices sprawl and only temporarily reduces congestion.
Financing is also a concern. The private operator has complete control in setting tolls for 70 years. Tolls have to be high enough to pay-off construction debt, but if they’re too high, drivers won’t pay the price. If there are too few toll-paying vehicles, the State must pay the private operator for HOV vehicles if they make up more than 25% of the traffic in any 15-minute period.*
Finally, over 30% of the Beltway construction impacted my Delegate District. While neighborhoods have been helped with Transurban landscaping grants and limited soundwall additions, cut-through traffic remains a concern. With re-districting, I now represent the greatest neighborhood impacts of the 1-95 / I-395 Express Lane construction and completely share the deep frustration of impacted residents that the new lanes were stopped short of Mark Center when they should have been extended across the Potomac.
These and other concerns about the public accountability of projects that are owned privately led me to introduce a bill in 2008 calling for a study of competitive bidding under Virginia’s Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA).
(*The State funded 21.5% of the $1.9 billion Beltway project cost, which was largely used to pay for replacing 50 aging bridges and overpasses, 3 new interchanges, and pedestrian/bicycle crossings. Private investors, looking for a 13% return on investment, put in $350 million. The remaining $1.2 billion came from 40-year bonds that will be repaid by tolls. Tolls also must cover all maintenance and operation costs. For I-395/I-95, the State is paying directly for 8% of the project cost of the express toll lanes.)
For more detail, the links below take you to charts, commentaries, and testimony I’ve prepared* over the years –unless otherwise credited. Unfortunately, they are as important today as when I first developed them. I’ve put them in order of relevance to your understanding the problem rather than by date.
- The gap between transportation needs and funding is much worse since I developed this Basic Gas Tax Revenue Chart in 2001 to answer legislators’ objections to passing my bill (HB1984) to raise the gas tax. It’d look the same today, only the gap would be much wider. It is a graphic representation of how far behind we are and how long it will take for the 2013 funding to address the need. Note: The representation of NEED does not include growth in transit use.
- Since Virginia last increased transportation funding in 1986, Demand Up Supply Down since 1986 shows the growth through 2004 in traffic (71%), transit riders (58%), car ownership (53%), licensed drivers (34%), population (28%), and expanded road capacity (7%). (Chart reflects statewide growth and was prepared by Fairfax County.)
- The cost of highway and street construction rose 89.1% between 1986 and 2006. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor’s Producer Price Index for Highway and Street Construction. The 40% in Fairfax County’s chart above is the general Consumer Price Index) Click here for a discussion of essential investments that must be made for an effective, safe transit system.
- If transportation had continued to be funded at the level established when I was Secretary under Governor Baliles, Virginia would have spent over $3.5 billion more from 1995 to 2005 on transit and road improvements, making congestion substantially less than it is today.
- Although, as Secretary, I had cut construction time by 20% and increased employee efficiency by over 30%, by 2002, Governor Warner discovered fully 1/3 of the projects that had been promised by the previous Governor had to be cut because funds never had existed to fund them. Reforms build on 9 separate audits from 1999-2010. We now have accurate reporting of on-time and on-budget performance rather than politically convenient promises.
Part of this financial management reform can be found by going to dashboard.virginiadot.org. These reforms have produced over 80% on-time, on-budget performance year after year. Finally, here is a one page Audit Fact Sheet about what a 2010 audit really said about VDOT not spending all available funds — mostly out of un-certainty about the economy which led to a 6-month reserve rather than 3-month.
As a delegate in 1985, my work was key to changing the highway funding formula to more than double Fairfax’s share of state funds. As Secretary, among other achievements, I increased Metro funding 4-fold, freed toll revenue for use to make cooridor improvements, forged 80% private funding to improve 16 miles of Rt 28, negotiated VRE use of railroad right of way, crafted the private toll road legislation for the Greenway, and chaired development of the first Northern Virginia unified land use and transportation plan. These landmark initiatives continue to be models for most of the current “new” ideas to solve transportation problems.
As the only non-lawyer on the House Criminal Law subcommittee, I play a key role as a victim advocate. I will continue to use my tenacity and respect for the Law to work with attorneys and law enforcement in crafting enforceable laws that keep a focus on real world impacts. As a former Secretary of Public Safety overseeing prisons, I also have dealt with the high cost of putting all our efforts on punishment and not also working to prevent crime.
According to the head of the Fairfax County Police anti-gang unit, Virginia now has the toughest laws in the country. I will continue to work to strengthen our laws wherever needed, such as my bill to make it a criminal offense to brandish a machete following attacks involving my District. Law enforcement needs your help, too. Please report any suspicious activity or gang graffiti by using the police non-emergency number: 703 – 691 – 2131. Your eyes and ears in the community may give police an important link in their investigative and prevention efforts.
Most proposals to combat gang activity are taken seriously by the General Assembly. We’ve created “gang free zones” around schools, created a witness protection program, and allow police and prosecutors to close down houses that harbor gang activity in the same way they can close down houses of prostitution. We added prosecutors to work across county and city lines in Northern Virginia to effectively build cases against gang organizers; made bail harder to get; directed that schools be informed if any student is arrested for gang activity; and made it a crime to recruit or intimidate someone into joining a gang.
Earlier bills of mine are also relevant to gang activity. In 1996, I increased the penalties for conspiracy and solicitation to commit a crime when minors and handguns are involved. In 1997, my bill to treat the aggravated malicious wounding of a pregnant woman with the intent to kill the fetus the same as murder became law. This is a particularly heinous form of gang vengeance.
However, the more I work with the issue of gangs, the more convinced I’ve become that the #1 thing we can do to prevent gangs is reduce class sizes, especially in elementary schools. A child who feels they are part of society, doesn’t have to join a gang to “belong.”
The national Polaris Project named Virginia law as one of the most improved in their 2011 rankings. I was please to receive this email: “Thank you for everything you did and for being one of our champions on this important issue. If it weren’t for you efforts on HB 1893/1898 the law would not be nearly as strong as it is today.”
Changes in the law are fully discussed in this link. In brief, human trafficking was brought fully under Virginia’s abduction and kidnapping laws. Anyone who participates in any way to bring about an abduction is as guilty as the person who actually holds the person and – as it relates to most human trafficking – the penalty is 20 years to life. Abduction of any one under 18 for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography was added to Virginia law. In addition, where a connection to an abduction can’t be proven, anyone who benefits from making anyone engage in forced labor or services, concubinage, prostitution, or the manufacture of any obscene material or child pornography can be sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison
CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN
Working with a frustrated Fairfax police investigator — whom I’d gotten to know as Director of CASA (program to help abused children) — I crafted HB1731 (1999) to allow police to step-in and make an arrest before a child is physically contacted by a sexual predator who is cultivating him/her through the Internet. I was delighted when the Fairfax County Police Child Services Unit made me their first “Honorary Member” for this work.
In 2006, my bill (HB1066) expanded the definition of child abuse/neglect to cover any parent or custodian who allows a child to be alone with someone who is required to register as a sexual offender.
In 2005 (HB2564), I was able to get long-overdue reform to provide consistently greater criminal penalties against parents or grandparents who sexually abuse their child or use the child in the commission of any sexual crime, such as pornography.
In 2003 and 2004, I was shocked that bills to require that, if it did not breach the tenets of their church structure, clergy must report suspected child abuse – as doctors and teachers must – were defeated despite strong support from all but one member of the clergy who expressed the view that the clergy’s first duty was to minister to the adult. That view prevailed.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
In 2008, successful bills from the Criminal Law subcommittee, which I chaired, of the Governor’s Sexual Violence Commission included not making victims pay for medical services following rape, not requiring an initial victim polygraph, and removing subsequent marriage to a 14-year-old as a defense against prosecution for rape.
Working closely with prosecutors, in the 1999 Session, I was able to re-define the level of injury or force that must be proven in marital rape and largely ended the great discrepancies in prosecution and sentencing throughout the state (HB1732). In 2004, the separate offense of marital rape was done away with completely.
I also carried successful legislation – HB2017 (1997) and HB583 (1998) – to ensure that police can respond rapidly to domestic violence calls with accurate information about past incidents and have the power to make arrests upon evidence of probable harm.
In 1999 (HB1874), my bill made it clear that protective orders require stalkers to stay out of visual and voice contact as well as physical contact.
In 1997 (HB1044), my bill prevents persons charged with specified felony sex offenses who have been previously convicted of one of those offenses from being released on bail.
In 2003, I worked with House Majority Leader Griffith (R) to established a civil process to review violent sexual offenders being released from prison. As of 2008, 20-25 per year are being committed to a secure mental institution upon a determination that they are a danger to society.
DATE RAPE AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
In 1997 (HB1926), I worked with police to come down hard on the “date rape drug,” which is widely available largely because drug traffickers push this cheap drug among young users as a way to enhance the effect of cocaine, heroine, and alcohol. Seizures of “roofies”, “roach”, “row-shay” (to list just some of the street names) nationwide exceed most other illicit drugs. It is small; it is cheap; and an overdose can kill. When I learned that police weren’t going after it because the penalties were too low, I got legislation passed to make the penalties for giving, distributing, or possessing Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) the same as cocaine, marijuana, and other Schedule I drugs. In addition, just as rape can be prosecuted under Virginia law if the victim was too drunk to resist, use of a “date rape drug” is punishable by 5 years to life. As an accessory, a person who gives the victim the drug can draw the same sentence.
Two playmates witnessed the random, brutal stabbing of an 8-year-old Alexandria boy, Kevin Shifflett, in the spring of 2000. My legislative study and subsequent changes in the law allow child witnesses to such violence to testify via closed-circuit television. HB 2014 (2001); HB2058 and HB 2059 (1999); and HJ 280 (1998).
Crime victims feel helpless when prosecutors believe the evidence is not strong enough to file charges. An alternative is to sue the suspect for damages, which requires less proof. In 2001 (HB2189), I removed a major hurdle to this means of pursuing some measure of justice by extending the 2-year statute of limitations on civil suits related to a crime.
Also in 2001, my bill (HB1661) prevents insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence in providing insurance including health, accident, life and property damage.
When I was Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety, Virginia became the first state to process and use DNA evidence. We are a leader in the development of a criminal DNA records bank to assist in solving violent crime. Virginia became the 6th state to use computerized finger-print identification which cleared a huge backlog of unsolved burglaries and other property crimes.
I am proud of my long involvement combating drunk driving. One of the most significant bills I got passed was HB924 (2001) aimed at hardcore drunk drivers. Virginia finally joined 45 other states that allow prosecutors to tell the judge/jury if a defendant unreasonably refused to take a breath test. “Experienced” drunk drivers previously took a chance that they might escape conviction on a technicality if there was no breath test evidence.
In 2004, we spent many hours on the Criminal Laws Subcommittee significantly strengthened drunk driving laws in reaction to the steady increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths nationally and in Virginia since 1999 after almost two decades of decline. There were more drunk driving fatalities than murders in 2002. Most of the tough new laws are directed at hard core drunk drivers, who make up more than 1/3 of arrests, and often are driving with BAC’s over .20.
Local and state police do not have the authority to deport. Unless the person we detain has a criminal record, federal authorities release them back into the community pending a hearing — for which they may not show-up. If federal authorities are given the resources to quickly determine legal status and the resources to return undocumented immigrants to their country, then cooperative efforts with local and state law enforcement could be productive. Of course, the ultimate measure of the success of deportation is border security and the ease with which a deportee can re-enter.
In addition, specifically related to day laborers, law enforcement would be greatly enhanced by federal reform that realistically sets the number of work visas. Police could then more readily deal with those who have a legitimate reason to be in this country and those who don’t. Finally, federal enforcement of the duty of an employer to check the legal status of any employee is not being evenly applied. Law-abiding employers are being undercut by competitors who are hiring undocumented immigrants because they can use their status to pay them less.
In 2000, my bill (HB309) made it illegal for a person to sell a gun if they can’t legally own a gun. Closing this loophole creates an even playing field between small licensed dealers who go through criminal and mental health background checks to get a license and large chain stores, like K-Mart, that have only one corporate license covering all their stores. This legislation also lays the groundwork to cover people who go from gun show to gun show, acting like dealers, but who are un-licensed because they don’t have a place of business.
In 2004, I voted against a bill that passed which overturns all local gun laws. Because the bill passed, Fairfax County must have General Assembly approval to ban guns in county offices, recreation centers, or parks.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN VIRGINIA
In recent years, Virginia has been second only to Texas in the number of executions. One reason is that 21 days after a person has been convicted in Virginia, new evidence cannot be considered. While I have voted for the death penalty, I vowed during my service as Virginia Secretary of Transportation & Public Safety (yes, prisons as well as pavement!) that I would do all I could to erase the 21-Day Rule.
With the active involvement of many religious organizations and the credibility of DNA analysis, in 2001, we moved a long way towards this goal. Appeals can now be granted based on new biological evidence. However, we couldn’t get enough votes for a one-year moratorium on executions while the Virginia Supreme Court completes its study of other kinds of evidence, such as another person’s confession.
In 2004, the 21-Day rule was carefully lifted for non-biological evidence. A person gets only one appeal and court review must find the evidence meets the highest standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” before the appeal can proceed. The new law excludes anyone who pled guilty. Unfortunately, this also includes plea bargains or “Alfred plea” even if the new evidence includes another person’s confession.
RECORD AS VIRGINIA’S SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION & PUBLIC SAFETY:
(THE FOLLOWING IS MY RECORD AS SECRETARY AS COMPILED AT THE END OF MY TERM)
As Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1986-90, Vivian Watts was responsible for a 5,350 bed construction program carried out on 13 sites, two of which were new prison locations. Use of prototype pre-cast components for cellblock construction and pre-engineered buildings for dormitories produced cost savings and significantly reduced construction time. From the date of legislative authorization, facility openings ranged from 10 months to 3 and 1/2 years for a new 2100-bed cellblock facility. Equally important, while lifetime staffing costs were reduced through modification of existing designs, basic similarities in layout will facilitate systemwide management and training, as well as, appropriate crisis response.
Mrs. Watts played a key role in the timely identification of changes in growth trends in inmate population. From initially questioning the validity of time series forecasting techniques to weekly tracking of year-to-date comparisons, she provided strong direction for projection modeling changes and the need for additional expedited construction. A sophisticated simulation model which tracks 122 variables was developed for population forecasting. (Note: The 2001 Joint Legislative and Review Commission Report on Forecasting recommended that this simulation methodology and consultative model be used by other major state agencies and noted that the prison over-building which occurred in the mid-nineties was a direct result of its not being used.)
As an outgrowth of this construction and forecasting experience, Mrs. Watts directed the development of a 10-Year Master Plan for construction. The Plan included time lines for site identification, environmental review and permitting, budget authorization and the letting of construction contracts. In addition, the Plan contained regional location recommendations by type of facility, appropriate use of inmate labor, assumptions about effects of sentencing alternatives and a recommended balance between dormitory and cellblock construction based on translating simulated population forecasts to security level requirements.
In prison operations, due to improved training and central management direction, the Virginia Department of Corrections achieved the lowest escape record in its history and one of the lowest in the nation. Management direction also led to the reduction of overtime by 50 percent.
Correctional program initiatives included the institution of the Literacy Incentive Program (LIP or “No Read/No Release”) which has become a national model. In addition, an integrated prison mental health program was established which included licensure of a 180-bed intensive care facility. Separation of Youth Services as an independent agency from the Department of Corrections was achieved. Secretary Watts’ personal interest in the expansion of prison industries, led to acceptance by industry and labor representatives of the concept of competitive bidding for private sector running of prison shops and establishment of a Prison Industries Authority.
Secretary Watts also had oversight for the State Police, Criminal Justice Services, Commonwealth Attorney Services, and served on the Supreme Court’s Commission on the Future of the Judiciary. During her tenure, the number of state police officers were increased 16 percent and all officers were issued body armor and semi-automatic weapons to replace .38 caliber revolvers. Computerized fingerprint identification capability was established with a statewide network of remote terminals for local law enforcement access. Sentencing guidelines, developed by her secretariat in cooperation with the judiciary, are now in use throughout the Commonwealth. Secretary Watts also headed a delegation of law enforcement and corrections officials in an on-site exchange program with Israel.
Finally, as Secretary, Mrs. Watts was directly involved in the development of efforts to increase legislative, media and public understanding of the magnitude of the corrections challenge. Her development of a variety of charts and concise presentations of the current factual status of commonly held perceptions helped expedite decision making. She initiated improved communications with sheriffs and local jails which led to identification of more efficient procedures for the movement of inmates and improved data base development. She actively served on the steering committee of Commission on Prison and Jail Overcrowding, which was formed in her last year as Secretary. The 55 recommendations made by this Commission represent a blueprint of the governmental, administrative and program changes and continuing commitments which are necessary to deal with increased incarceration rates.
My favorite definition of seniors is “65 and better!” That’s the goal for most, but it’s not always the reality.
Going door to door over the years, I’ve had an 83-year-old call down to me from her perch on a second story window sill where she was washing windows. I’ve also talked to a bone-tired 76-year-old man whose been nursing his wife for the last 5 years. I represent the dynamic, stimulating continuing care community of Greenspring Village. I also represent distressed people with loved ones in under-staffed nursing homes.
I’m determined that where government must step-in, it will be with the flexibility and adequate funding that fosters human dignity. I am equally determined that our tax policies allow seniors to manage their resources in order to maintain their financial independence.
Virginia is one of the few states with no minimum staffing standards for nursing homes. The seriousness of this issue is underscored by the fact that Christopher Reeve – even with all the care he received – died from bedsore complications. With the high number of frail elderly in nursing homes on Medicaid and the acuity required to be placed in a nursing home under Virginia’s minimally-financed Medicaid program, it is especially critical that we join the 37 other states who have minimum staffing requirements.
Virginia’s lack of standards is directly related to the fact that reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients in nursing homes run $500 below actual monthly costs on average. Nursing homes who do have adequate staffing do so by charging private pay patients significantly more. I see this as a hidden tax to make-up for what Virginia’s low Medicaid rates don’t cover. It would cost the state $24.5 million (matched by another $24.5 million in federal Medicaid funds) to require that patients in every nursing home throughout Virginia have at least 3.5 hours of direct care services per 24 hours. 2005 marks my 5th year fighting for this issue and I will not give up.
In 2008, my bill HB 1051 provided that the cap on medical malpractice suits applies only to healthcare services provided in nursing homes and not to injury or death caused by business decisions such as staffing, security, maintenance, or food preparation.
In 2007, I carried a bill to establish a Nursing Facility Quality Improvement Program that will provide on-site training and quality improvement assistance at nursing homes that are not in compliance with state regulations that is funded from fines paid for violations. Another one of my bills (HB 2636) helped establish a pilot program to provide geriatric mental health services to people over age 65 with serious mental illness and to provide psychiatric consultation and training to the staff of long-term care facilities.
In 2004, the Washington Post’s investigative series on shocking conditions in Assisted Living Facilities put a face on bills I carried since 2000. In 2005, I worked with key legislators and responsible assisted living operators to create much-needed protection for over 30,000 people who cannot live on their own and are in assisted living throughout Virginia. Our 2005 legislation creates
- oversight for dispensing medications,
- better mental health screening,
- licensure of operators so that the bad apples can’t just close one home and open another, and
- emergency help for residents in unsafe homes.
Fines were substantially increased from just $500 to up to $10,000 (the maximum fine currently possible for veterinarians), but we also provided that fines could be used to remedy conditions. We also increased the number of inspectors and their training. Finally, we modestly increased state funding for needy residents by $50 per month, but the total is still far below actual costs.
In 2011 , I introduced HB1633 to make it a crime punishable by 1 to 10 years to take the property or financial resources of a vulnerable older person. If the exploitation is by a caregiver or someone with legal authority to manage the person’s assets, the penalty increases to 5 to 20 years. The greatest challenge to getting the strongest possible bill is defining “vulnerable” and to get prosecutors to agree on what has to be proven so they will aggressively prosecute “exploitation.” I’m working hard with Fairfax County law enforcement and County Attorney on language to get it passed in 2012. In addition, I will pursue civil prosecution – as I did in bringing un-licensed contractors under the Consumer Protect Act to try them for multiple acts under whatever company name they used and award consumers triple damages.
HB1848 (1999) corrected a potentially serious problem when the 1998 Session, in trying to stop scofflaws from abusing handicapped parking privileges, passed a law requiring date-of-birth, sex, and name (!) to be displayed on the mirror placard. My bill allows people to cover up the name so that disabled persons don’t become targets for con artists or burglars.
Domestic violence bills I got passed in 1998 and 1997 (HB583 and HB2071) both expanded the response of law enforcement to domestic violence to include elder abuse.
To support home health care providers, every session since 2006, I have introduced bills to give a tax credit for unreimbursed Home Health Care expenses and to provide a tax deduction for nursing assistants and home health aides who provide Medicare-authorized home health or long-term care services to individuals in their homes.
I opposed total repeal of the estate tax. We cannot afford it. I do support partial repeal and, in 2004, I introduced a bill (HB5004) to removed the tax on estates under $10 million and on all estates where the majority of the assets are in a closely held business or a working farm. This would cost Virginia about $50 million annually. Total repeal is costing 3 times that amount. I firmly believe that funding minimum staffing standards for nursing homes is far more important to seniors than repealing the estate tax on mega-millionaires.
I was successful in 2005 in getting two state Services Officers located in Northern Virginia for the first time to help veterans and their spouses. Regrettably, every time we get a service officer trained, they move to the federal VA where the salary is considerably higher. I have received commitments that this issue will be addressed in the 2012 budget amendments. I also will have 2012 legislation to deal with the Attorney General’s opinion that 100% disable veterans who have put their home in a revocable trust are not eligible for real estate tax relief.
In 2010, working with the Virginia Bar, I was able to get comprehensive reform of the Small Estates Act, saving many from the cost and hassle of probate. Among its provisions an heir can get immediate access to an account un $2,400 in addition to being able to pay funeral expenses of up to $3,500. After 60 days, an heir can gain access to assets of up to $15,000 and no financial institution can deny access to assets of up to $50,000 if all heirs agree in writing.
In 1998, my bill (HB334) waived the need for an inventory or payment of settlement fees when an estate is under $10,000. And in 1997, I moved the age-old prohibition against naming someone who is not a resident of Virginia to be named as the sole executor of an estate. (HB347)
END OF LIFE DECISIONS
One commentator observed, “Most people have a lot more confidence in their loved ones than they do in some legislator.” Here are some good web sites to help you take control of your life:
www.aarp.com takes you to “Care and Family” where you need to click on “End of Life.”
www.caringinfo.org is the National Hospice site, which has Virginia’s advance directive form.
www.abanet.org/aging has a “Consumer Tool Kit for Health Care Decisionmaking” put together by the American Bar Association.
www.uslivingwillregistry.com is a national registry for living wills.
In addition, my bill (HB861 – 1998) allows a person to designate someone other than a family member to make end-of-life decisions on his or her behalf. Prior to this, hospitals and others would only deal with next of kin.
HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE
In 2001, I got a bill passed (HB2704) to require insurance and HMO coverage when pharmacists provide services, such as diabetes training, which otherwise would be performed in a doctor’s office.
In 2000, my bill (HB923) passed to require a pro-rata refund of premiums when long-term care insurance policies are cancelled or adjusted.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Under the Senior Citizens Higher Education Act, seniors have been able to enroll tuition-free in college courses on a space available basis if their federal tax income was less than $10,000. Due to the way a federal retiree’s income is taxed, this has never been equitable and the cap hadn’t been raised since 1989. My bill in 1999 (HB2274) changed the taxable income used from the federal to the state. Because of the Age Tax Credit, this effectively increases the income cap to $22,000 and treats federal retirees more equitably.
In 2000, I was please to sponsor the legislation (HB195) that gives a sales tax exemption for the Lifetime Learning Institute of Northern Virginia.