Archive for the ‘Eastern Shore’ category

DRIVER FEES DON’T WORK — NORTHAM QUOTED

December 6, 2007

Study Questions Va. Driver Fees, Raising the Possibility of Repeal
By Anita Kumar and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 6, 2007

 

RICHMOND, Dec. 5 — Virginia may have to issue more than 300,000 license suspensions to drivers over the next two years for failure to pay the state’s abusive-driving fees, according to a government report that may hasten calls for the General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to eliminate them.

In the first broad review of the fees since they took effect July 1, state auditors found that they have not affected traffic safety and might not raise as much money as expected. The report describes confusion over which offenses can trigger the fees and indicates that some police officers are choosing not to write tickets for violations that carry the fees.

Auditors working for the General Assembly said they are uncertain about the long-term impacts the fees will have on safety and state revenue, but their report raises questions about whether legislators and Kaine made the right decision in establishing them.

Although he aggressively defended the fees over the summer, Kaine said he is open to getting rid of them. “We heard overwhelmingly people don’t like it,” Kaine said. “It should at least be changed, maybe eliminated.”

The abusive-driver fees, which range from $750 to $3,000 for serious offenses including drunken or reckless driving, were supported by Kaine and members of both parties as a way to avoid raising taxes to pay for $65 million a year in road and transit improvements. But since being implemented, they have generated considerable public opposition.

“I’m concerned that it was a huge public policy mistake,” said Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania), a member of the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability, which sought the report. Houck and other lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal or modify the fees.

The report, prepared by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, paints a picture of a fee system that is almost out of control, with descriptions of some police officers unwilling to write tickets because they are sympathetic to motorists or wary of too much time in court.

Although there was an increase in arrests for driving under the influence, there was an 11 percent decline in arrests for reckless driving, one of the less-serious offenses that trigger the fees.

The report also shows that thousands of motorists are unwilling or unable to pay the fees. As the fees were approved in February, a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor driving offense has to pay $250 to $1,050 a year for three consecutive years. If the motorist fails to pay, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend the person’s driver’s license.

The report estimates there could be 137,000 suspensions because of the fees through the end of June. An additional 181,000 suspensions could occur because of the fees in the next fiscal year. State officials said the projections represent a substantial increase over the numbers of suspensions generally issued, but they could not provide exact figures.

Auditors based the estimates on current collection rates, which run at about 5 percent for felony driving convictions and 13 percent for people fined who are driving on a suspended or revoked license. There are about 5.3 million licensed drivers in Virginia.

The report says license suspensions spiked in Michigan after it imposed similar fees in 2003. Since then, the state has issued more than 750,000 suspension notices for failure to pay the fees. The study released yesterday says Michigan is issuing 8,000 to 10,000 license suspensions a week. In Texas, which has similar fees, more than 455,000 suspension orders were issued between 2003 and last year.

Judges in Michigan are pushing for a repeal of the fee because cases of unlicensed motorists, some of whom regularly flee police, are clogging the courts. Legislators are considering the repeal.

Although Kaine and GOP leaders had said that the fees would make Virginia highways safer, the report found that arrests for speeding and driving under the influence have increased in the second half of this year over the same period last year.

Between July 1 and Oct. 31, there were 198 more DUI arrests than in the same period last year. There were also 5,282 more speeding arrests.

The report says there has been a decline in arrests for reckless driving. Some of the drop may be the result of police officers being lenient because they don’t want certain motorists to be assessed a fee for abusive driving, the report says.

But any decline in reckless driving is tempered by data from the Virginia State Police that show the state is on pace to record more than 1,000 highway fatalities this year for the first time since 1990.

As lawmakers prepare for a potentially contentious debate in January over the fees, the report is fodder for Democrats in the state Senate who plan to push for a repeal. Houck has introduced a bill to do so.

“We need to get rid of these fees,” said Ralph Northam (D), an incoming senator from the Hampton Roads area.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax) said the fees will be a top priority. “You are going to see a ton of bills,” said Saslaw, who refused to rule out raising the gas tax to replace the fees.

House Republicans are expected to resist repeal efforts. Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) has introduced a bill to make the fees apply to out-of-state drivers; currently, only Virginia drivers are assessed the fees. The bill would also limit the offenses that would trigger a fee, rewrite the reckless driving statute and give judges more latitude on whether to suspend a license.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said the transportation package, which was designed to increase roads and mass transit funding by $1 billion annually, could unravel if legislators push to repeal the fees. He said some delegates want to get rid of the regional taxing districts in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, which account for the bulk of the funding in the transportation plan.

“If you start taking out one piece, why can’t you take out that second piece and then the third piece?” Griffith said. “Before you know it, all that hard work that created the largest increase in transportation funding in history is going to unravel.”

 

 

NORTHAM v RERRAS — A TIGHT RACE

October 27, 2007

Tide May Turn in Hampton Roads
GOP Senate Majority Rides on Handful of Tight Races
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 27, 2007

 

NORFOLK — In 1999, political novice Nick Rerras ousted a longtime and powerful state senator. In 2003, he easily won reelection.

But this year, the Republican finds himself in his toughest race yet, one that may cost him the Hampton Roads seat he has held for eight years.

The contest is one of a handful of costly, contentious and closely watched races in Virginia that could switch from Republican to Democrat on Election Day, possibly changing the balance of power in the Senate. Other key races include an open seat in Hampton Roads and three inNorthern Virginia, where Republican incumbents are trying to hold onto their jobs.

Leaders from both parties describe the contest between the conservative Republican and his Democratic opponent, newcomer Ralph Northam, as neck-in-neck less than two weeks before voters go to the polls Nov. 6.

“It’s not a great time to have an ‘R’ next to your name,” said Phil Cox, a consultant for Rerras and other Republicans in Virginia, including Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell. “The national brand has suffered.”

The seat’s surprising vulnerability this year stems from a host of factors: A district, like those in other parts of Virginia, that is gradually turning bluer; national fatigue with Republicans caused by an unpopular president and war; and Rerras’s own controversial comments that include tying mental illness to demonic possession.

“It’s always been a borderline district. But the dynamics have changed,” said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), who is coordinating an effort to preserve the Republican majority in the Senate. “The race is a dead heat, a statistical tie.”

With the seats of all 140 delegates and senators up for election in 10 days, Democrats say they are feeling increasingly confident that they can retake the Senate and pick up three to six seats in the House. Democrats need to gain four seats in the Senate and 11 in the House to grab power from the Republicans for the first time since 1999.

They are outraising and outspending Republicans in most races in the state as both parties are spending a record amount of money to attack each other in colorful campaign mailers and on radio and TV in hard-fought, negative campaigns.

Democrats had always expected to have a shot in Rerras’s district, but they had not expected to even run a candidate for the nearby 1st District seat, held for more than a decade by Sen. Martin E. Williams (R-Newport News), a moderate and leader of the influential Senate Transportation Committee.

But conservative anti-tax activist Tricia Stall shocked the Republican establishment when she defeated Williams in a bitter primary in June. Democrat John Miller is running against Stall, who most Republican leaders are reluctantly supporting because they need the seat to hold onto the majority.

The race is considered too close to call, but there is a distinct possibility Democrats could win the Republican-leaning district that includes Newport News and Hampton for the first time in years. “Obviously, we got a gift in the Republican primary,” said Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the Senate minority leader who hopes to become the majority leader if the Democrats win control.

The Stall-Miller race, more than any other in Virginia, highlights the fractures in the state Republican party. Several moderate Republicans, including Williams, are leaving the Senate, and more conservative candidates are striving to change the face of the GOP regardless of whether the Democrats take over.

“Right now, as a party, we’re deeply divided,” Williams said. “We’re in trouble.”

Stolle predicts that the Republicans will keep the majority in the Senate if they win both crucial Hampton Roads seats and that the two parties will split the Senate if Republicans win one of the two.

In the 6th District, which includes parts of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore, Rerras disputes leaders of his own party who say the race is close. “We’re doing very, very well,” he said.

The district, largely blue-collar with a huge military presence, has been gradually turning blue. Residents voted for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and U.S. Sen. James Webb (D) in the past two statewide elections, but not overwhelmingly. It’s a part of the state where skyrocketing property taxes dominate the debate more than transportation and illegal immigration.

“I think it’s getting more moderate. It’s not Democrat or Republican. It’s more moderate,” said Alan Diamonstein, a former Democratic member of the House from Hampton Roads, who once beat Stall. “People here have respect for moderation. They don’t like extreme.”

Rerras, 50, the son of Greek immigrants who was raised in Norfolk, works as a consultant to technology and computer companies. He has centered his campaign largely on reducing property taxes by allowing Virginia localities to exempt up to 20 percent of a home’s value from real estate taxes and putting a 5 percent cap on real estate tax increases.

Northam, 48, a pediatric neurologist from the Eastern Shore, is running as a fiscally conservative Democrat who supports the homestead exemption but not a cap.

“It’s always hard to unseat an incumbent,” he said. But he added, “I think people are looking for a change.”

Robert Skelly of Norfolk, whose property taxes went up last year by 23 percent, has supported Rerras in the two previous elections but has yet to make a choice this year. “Not one of them comes up with a solid answer,” he said.

At candidates’ debates, like one this week sponsored by the Roosevelt Gardens Civic League in Norfolk, the two also mention safety, education and health care, but they differed on this year’s legislative transportation package that created costly abusive-driver fees. Rerras says he proudly voted for the bill, while Northam says he would have preferred a small gasoline-tax increase instead.

Norfolk City Council member Paul R. Riddick, a lifelong Democrat who supports Rerras, calls him a “fair, straightforward guy even though I don’t always support his decisions.”

Rerras has been criticized by Northam and others for his deeply conservative and religious views, which include support for a constitutional amendment against same-sex unions, parental consent for minors having abortions and a mandate that schools display the words “In God we trust.”

Rerras once publicly questioned whether some mental health problems, such as multiple personality disorder, might be caused by demonic possession. He admits that he once posed the question eight years ago but says he has never once voted against a mental health funding proposal while in the General Assembly.

More recently, a female candidate for Norfolk judge complained that Rerras used the term “femi-Nazi” in her legislative interview for the job.

Norfolk Sheriff Robert McCabe, who serves as president of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, has supported Rerras in the past but is behind Northam this year. McCabe described Rerras’s comments, especially those about mental illness, as an “embarrassment” and called him “extreme in his views.”

Northam had $336,000 left in the bank as of Sept. 30, the end of the last reporting period, while Rerras had $171,000.

This week, Northam passed the $1 million mark, though about a quarter of that comes from himself or his parents. Rerras calls Northam a millionaire who is out of touch with the largely working-class district. Northam says he prefers to take money from his family than from special interests.

Williams, who serves with Rerras in the Senate, said he knows that Rerras faces a tough election but should not be underestimated, and his reputation as a tireless campaigner should not be dismissed.

“Nick Rerras is an extraordinarily hardworking person,” he said. “Polls don’t show every door Nick has knocked on.”

NORTHAM RESPONDS TO RERRAS

October 23, 2007

Challenger in 6th District pumps up campaign volume
By HARRY MINIUM, The Virginian-Pilot
© October 23, 2007 
Last updated: 10:11 PM
 

 


Sen. Nick Rerras

 

 

 


Ralph Northam

 

 

 

 

 

NORFOLK

In many ways, the 6th state Senate District is ideal for Nick Rerras – it is mostly blue-collar and leans Republican.

Rerras, 50, is the son of Greek immigrants who once ran a store in downtown Norfolk. A Norfolk native, he lives in a modest home in Bromley, sends his children to public schools and has a conservative political philosophy. He’s an Army veteran who now works as a consultant to defense contractors.

He broke into the Senate by upsetting Stanley Walker, president pro tem of the Senate, in 1999, and was handily re-elected in 2003.

This year, however, he faces a difficult challenge from Democrat Ralph Northam, whose resume also resonates with residents of the district, which stretches from Norfolk and Virginia Beach north to the Eastern Shore and Mathews County.

Raised on the Eastern Shore, where he worked on a farm and a fishing boat as a youngster, Northam, 48, attended Virginia Military Institute, graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School, served in the Army and is a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.

He moved to the East Beach section of Norfolk last year from Virginia Beach to run against Rerras.

Sensing an opportunity to claim one of four seats they need to retake control of the Senate, Democrats have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign. Northam’s father, who is a retired judge, and other relatives have pitched in nearly $280,000, leaving him with a large cash advantage over Rerras as the campaign enters its final two weeks.

J. Scott Leake, who directs the Virginia Senate Republican Leadership Trust, said the Rerras-Northam race is one of eight races statewide where poll results are within the margin of error.

“It’s a very close race,” he said.

And one in which there are clear differences between the candidates.

Rerras is one of the more conservative members of the Senate, especially on crime and social issues such as abortion.

Yet he bucked his party’s traditionalist wing last year by opposing legislation that made it more difficult for cities to force homeowners to sell their property.

He has proposed limiting real estate tax increases in Norfolk, which put him at odds with city officials.

Northam opposes the cap on Norfolk tax increases, though he agrees with a constitutional amendment proposed by Rerras to allow cities and counties to give homeowners tax breaks. He opposes some restrictions on abortion, supports Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposed expansion of early-childhood education, and wants more spending for health care and the environment.

Unlike Rerras, Northam said he would not have voted for the transportation plan crafted by the General Assembly and Kaine. Instead of raising money to build roads by charging higher fees from abusive drivers, Northam said he would raise the gas tax.

Both candidates have sharply criticized each other in campaign advertisements. The Virginian-Pilot asked Northam and the Democratic Party of Virginia to stop using one mailing that did not accurately quote a newspaper article.

This weekend, Northam began airing television ads attacking Rerras for supporting abusive driver fees that don’t apply to out-of-state residents. Rerras responded that Kaine put that provision into the legislation, and opposing it would have cost Hampton Roads billions of dollars in road improvements. Rerras wants to keep the fees but apply them to out-of-state residents; Northam would prefer to abolish them.

Rerras sent out a campaign mailing branding Northam a “millionaire” who’s out of touch with constituents on property taxes.

“If somebody from my family were to give me a quarter of a million dollars, The Virginian-Pilot would be all over the issue, saying my family was trying to buy the election,” he said.

Northam replied that he’d rather accept contributions from his family than from political action committees, and that he earned every dollar he has.

“If he wants to call me a millionaire, it’s a sign of hard work and fiscal responsibility,” Northam said. “I know how to manage money. I’ve done it on my own and I’m proud of it.”

Harry Minium, (757) 446-2371, harry.minium@pilotonline.com

WANDA THORNTON & AQUACULTURE FEARMONGERING

October 17, 2007

It’s crunch time on Eastern Shore for shellfish plan
By SCOTT HARPER, The Virginian-Pilot  October 17, 2007 

Two of the biggest economic engines on Virginia’s Eastern Shore these days – shellfish farming and waterfront development – are headed for a showdown.

Clam and oyster farming, now a $50 million-a-year industry, requires clean water. Development, with new roads and added storm water and sewage, often sullies clean water.

And that’s the rub.

It’s also why a state proposal to create “Aquaculture Enhancement Zones” throughout the Eastern Shore is causing such a furor.

On the one hand, the zones – which would be the first of their kind in Virginia – are perceived by supporters as necessary tools to force developers to use more environmentally sensitive techniques when planning and building new homes, condos and shopping centers.

To opponents, the proposal is a vaguely conceived intrusion on property rights and future growth, a government grab that benefits a single industry at the expense of others.

Anonymous e-mails have been flying in recent weeks warning that the aquaculture zones would make it difficult to even build a driveway, or could stymie waterfront development altogether.

“It’s so ambiguous, so broad-ranging, I can’t imagine what our own state government is thinking,” said Wanda Thornton, a longtime member and political force on the Board of Supervisors for Accomack County, one of two counties on the Shore.

Thornton, whose district includes the resort town of Chincoteague, said she found out about the proposal only by accident, at an unrelated meeting a month or so ago.

“This is why people don’t trust government,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who’s in favor of this thing.”

At a political forum last week in neighboring Northampton County, the idea garnered plenty of support.

Four of five candidates running for seats on the Northampton County Board of Supervisors spoke in favor of the proposal – in part, they said, because local development rules are not adequate to balance development and shellfish.

“Nobody wants to be perceived as anti-aquaculture,” said Jeff Walker, a board member seeking re-election. “Whether it’s runoff from farms, from development or storm drains, we clearly

have a need to better control this.”

The purpose of the enhancement zones, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, is “to provide additional protection” of waterways where shellfish farming exists today or might exist in the future.

Opponents worry that this could mean the entire Eastern Shore.

A written notice describing the proposal says developers would have to “demonstrate that practicable alternatives to discharging pollutants” into shellfish waters “have been evaluated and that the proposed discharge is the alternative that produces the least environmental impact.”

Left unsaid, however, is what kind of discharges the state wants to curb.

Sewage is clearly defined as a target, given that fecal bacteria in human sewage can contaminate shellfish beds and force their closure.

But there is no mention of other major threats to healthy clams and oysters – nutrient-rich runoff from tomato fields and other farms, and muddy storm water from development sites.

Such vagueness, though, is intentional.

The proposal at this point is just “a notice of intended regulatory action” – basically, a concept without parameters or specifics, said Elleanore Daub, a state environmental official overseeing the initiative.

Daub said it could take up to two years to form an advisory committee, hold meetings, draft formal rules, take public comment and send a proposed regulation to the State Water Control Board for a vote.

A first informational meeting about the zones is scheduled for today at 2 p.m. at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter.

“I hope they’ll have enough room for us all,” said Thornton, predicting a huge turnout.

Clam farming on the Eastern Shore has exploded in the past 20 years, moving from a few experimental plots to the largest source of aquaculture-grown hard clams on the East Coast.

Cherrystone Aqua Farms is symbolic of this remarkable expansion, though its headquarters remains in the same,

small spot on the Chesapeake Bay.

The company, based in Cheriton in Northampton County, sells millions of clams and oysters each year to markets around the country, including many grocery stores and

restaurants in Hampton Roads.

Its president and general manager, Mike Peirson, a biologist by training, has watched nervously for years as marinas, golf courses and condos in Cape Charles have crept closer and closer to the many creeks in which clams grow.

Peirson has watched the amount of condemned waterways increase on the Eastern Shore, as county officials continue to approve development projects.

“Once you lose the creeks, it’s game over for the aquaculture industry,” Peirson said.

“Storm-water management and sewage aren’t really dealt with in any comprehensive way,” he added. “There’s no overall plan. And we’re the ones suffering from that.”

State enhancement zones, Peirson said, “would help our local officials do the things that need to be done for this county to grow in a responsible way.”

Under current rules, development projects that meet local and state standards are approved without a public hearing or a public vote by any governing body.

In this way, several housing tracts were built near Mill Creek in Cheriton, where hundreds of thousands of clams are being grown in pristine waters by shellfish farmers, including some with Cherrystone Aqua Farms.

Granville Hogg, a local property owner and community activist, was floored. He is running as a write-in candidate for the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, with shellfish protection and public-works planning on top of his agenda.

“The developer did everything he needed to do, but the standards don’t meet our needs,” Hogg said. “That absolutely has to change.”

Standing next to a 42-inch concrete pipe on the edge of his property in Cheriton, where storm water soon will gush toward Mill Creek, Hogg said the future of the Eastern Shore is at stake.

“We’re either going to figure out a way to grow smartly,” he said, or “we’ll lose it all.”

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340, scott.harper@pilotonline.com

NORTHAM VS RERRAS POSITIONS

October 8, 2007

Senate hopefuls at odds on abuser fees

 

Ralph Northam wants to the scrap system while State Sen. Nick Rerras says it should be tweaked.

By HUGH LESSIG hlessig @dailypress.com | 804-225-7345

October 7, 2007

RICHMOND

The wrath of voters came down on state lawmakers this year after passage of expensive penalties aimed at Virginia drivers who break the law, but not out-of-state tourists who blow past everyone on their way to the beach.

As the 6th Senate District race heats up in Hampton Roads, the two candidates are at odds over what to do about them.

The challenger, Democrat Ralph Northam, wants to scrap the abuser fee system, part of a much larger transportation funding plan, and replace it with a 1.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax.

As he calculates it, the average driver —traveling 20,000 miles a year and averaging 25 miles to the gallon — would pay $12 more a year. “It’s really just a common-sense approach to collecting revenue that’s fair to everyone who uses our transportation system,” said Northam, a 48-year-old pediatric neurologist.

Sen. Nick Rerras, R-Norfolk, is the two-term incumbent. He wants the fees to stay but says the state should apply them to all drivers, not just Virginians, and he would remove the less serious offenses from the list.

That parallels the position of Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Rerras said higher gas prices are the last thing Hampton Roads motorists need.

“I don’t agree with the additional increases,” he said.

The question of real estate taxes has also sparked a sharp disagreement.

Rerras is pounding home his support for a measure that would cap real estate tax increases at 5 percent. 

He says voters are feeling squeezed by rising assessments and have told him that time and time again.

Northam calls the proposal “an election year stunt” that the legislature has already rejected and that would handicap localities that face growing school populations and increasing demand for services.

These are among the clearest lines in the sand between two men fighting to represent voters in the 6th District, which includes about half of Norfolk and a small area of Virginia Beach, then stretches up to include the entire Eastern Shore and Mathews County.

The district is trending Democratic. Kaine won 51 percent of the vote in 2005 compared to 46 percent for Republican Jerry Kilgore. In last year’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic challenger Jim Webb won 50 percent compared to 48 percent for Republican incumbent George Allen.

That’s partly why Rerras is vulnerable, said Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University.

Democrats have discussed retaking the Senate, where the GOP holds a four-seat edge, and the 6th is one of the districts they hope to take.

Plus, said Kidd, “There seems to be an anti-General Assembly sentiment that hits Republicans more than Democrats.”

The campaign has intensified in recent days. The candidates have sparred over debate appearances and traded barbs from a distance. 

Northam has accused Rerras of not trying hard enough to address problems in the region, from transportation to cleaning up the environment. 

“It’s not what he’s done,” Northam said. “It’s what he hasn’t done.”

Besides the difference over abuser fees, Northam says Rerras hasn’t pushed hard enough for cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. He also criticized the incumbent for voting against a bill that changed how the government could seize private property through eminent domain. The bill later became law.

In an interview, Northam also pointed to two instances where comments from Rerras — or at least reported comments — have grabbed headlines.

A few months ago, a woman who wanted to be a Norfolk judge said Rerras used the term “feminazi” — used often by Rush Limbaugh — during her interview. Some also have said that Rerras has linked some mental illnesses to demonic possession.

On the judgeship question, Rerras said he has apologized “for anything I’ve said that is wrong” and added, “we have excellent judges who are doing a good job.” As for the comment on mental health, he bristles at the idea that he doesn’t understand the challenges of the mental health system.

“He’s resorting to character assassination,” Rerras said. “Here’s what I say: Mental illness is a brain disorder that can be cured with medication and therapy.”

On the eminent domain bill, Rerras’ vote — he was one of two dissenters in the Senate — appeared to be in line with Norfolk officials who feared the legislation would hinder efforts to fix up blighted neighborhoods.

Rerras said the General Assembly had made record investments in environmental cleanup in recent years.

Northam supports more funding for the bay, but stops short of endorsing a new revenue source, such as a flush tax. “I hope it can be done within the confines of the budget,” Northam said. “We need to sit down at the table and prioritize.”

 

LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY QUESTIONABLE

May 31, 2007

With three votes looming, fate of roads authority still up in the air

By TOM HOLDEN, The Virginian-Pilot
© May 31, 2007
Last updated: 10:57 PM

The fate of the proposed Hampton Roads Transportation Authority may come down to the votes of one or two people next month when James City and Isle of Wight counties decide whether to support the new taxing entity.

The boards of the two counties, where the chairmen favor the new regional government, delayed taking action last week when residents raised questions about the higher taxes and fees that would be enacted to pay for major road projects.

At least seven of 12 city councils or county commissions representing 51 percent of the Hampton Roads population must recognize the authority before it can vote to raise taxes to finance regional road projects. To date, five cities have endorsed it.

If approved, the authority would enact a group of taxes and fees mostly related to vehicle ownership that are expected to raise about $177.5 million annually by 2013 and help finance six major transportation projects in Hampton Roads.

Board members in Isle of Wight and James City appear split on the issue, with some elected leaders not willing to say how they will vote.

“It’s close,” said E. Dana Dickens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, a regional group of civic and business leaders that has been lobbying for the authority.

“This decision could hinge on just one or two people,” he said. “It’s scary.”

Two localities, the city of Poquoson and York County, already have voted against it. Leaders in two others, Chesapeake and Hampton, have signaled they also will oppose it.

The cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg have endorsed the authority. The Suffolk City Council, which hasn’t indicated how it will vote, is expected to vote Wednesday.

Thomas R. Ivy, chairman of the Isle of Wight County Board, said he is uncertain what his board will do when it votes June 14.

“I thought we had the votes to get it voted on at the last meeting, but we didn’t,” Ivy said. “It means that one person is seriously deliberating and wants more time.”

Isle of Wight Board member James B. Brown, who is widely thought to be the swing vote, hasn’t said how he’ll vote.

Stan D. Clark, the board’s vice chairman, favors the authority but is critical of the General Assembly for forcing local communities to bear the brunt of tax increases.

“No one is happy with this,” Clark said, but he argues that Hampton Roads cannot afford to wait much longer to begin raising money for major road projects.

John J. McGlennon, chairman of the James City County Board, agreed.

“Everyone understands that this is pretty terrible legislation,” McGlennon said. “The real question is whether anything better will emerge if we reject it.”

Like his counterparts in Isle of Wight, McGlennon has received a flurry of e-mails, phone calls, and occasionally faxes from residents and businesses, some in support and some not. He declined to predict the vote now scheduled for June 12.

“We need to let the people have their say,” he said.

DRAKE ALL TALK ON VETS HEALTH CARE

March 24, 2007

FROM THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF VIRGINIA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Amy Reger
March 23, 2007 804.644.1966 ext 235

Thelma Drake: All Talk, No Action on Veterans Health Care

Congresswoman Thelma Drake promises: “[Veterans] need care, they need it now and we need to do everything that it takes to ensure they get that care.” [WVEC TV, 3/06/07]

When asked about problems at her local Veterans hospital, Thelma Drake replied: “A lot of it is funding, which is not their fault. That’s up to Congress to find the funding.” [WAVY TV, 3/19/07]

But Thelma Drake repeatedly votes against veterans and military healthy care. Today, she voted against the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, denying America’s troops and veterans $3.5 billion in health care funding.

“Rather than support our troops and veterans, Rep. Thelma Drake today voted against billions in necessary medical funding,” said Amy Reger, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “Thelma Drake said that it was Congress’ job to fund our VA hospitals, but when it came time to give the troops and vets that funding, she didn’t deliver. America’s troops and veterans deserve better than a Congresswoman who is all talk, no action.”

Today Thelma Drake voted against:

$450 million for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Counseling
$450 million for Traumatic Brain Injury care and research
$730 million to prevent health care fee increases for our troops
$20 million to address the problems at Walter Reed
$550 million to address the backlog in maintaining VA health care facilities
$250 million for sufficient personnel to support the growing number of veterans
$229 million for treating the growing number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
$62 million to speed up the processing of claims of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
This isn’t be the first time Thelma Drake has been all talk, no action on helping our veterans – it happens every year:

In 2006 Drake voted for to cut funding for veterans by $6 billion. [HCR 376, Vote #158, 5/18/2006
In 2005, Drake voted against an amendment to increase veterans’ health care and other benefits by $53 million [HR 2528, Vote #224, 5/26/2005] and a budget that cut funding for veterans’ health care by $13.5 billion over five years. [HCR 95, Vote #149, 4/28/2005]