State representatives address local issues at legislative meeting
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Jan 8, 2013, 15:52
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Supervisor Bill Gandel, Del. Rosalyn Dance, and Marth Burton, with Crater Planning District Commission, talked further after the meeting.
The Prince George County Board of Supervisors and the county’s department heads met with Del. Rosalyn Dance, D-63, Del. Riley Ingram, R-62, and Sen. Frank Ruff, R-15, three of the area’s General Assembly representatives to discuss the locality’s legislative requests Thursday.
Bills to eliminate or phase out the machinery and tools tax, which is levied on manufacturing equipment, have become a regular feature of General Assembly sessions.
If the machinery and tools and business and professional license tax were to be cut, Prince George County would stand to lose $2.5 million in revenue the county uses to provide public services.
Other localities in the region, including Hopewell, also rely on the tax.
“The conern was that if we’re not going to fully fund you all, then why would we take away your funding and stream and means that you have of generating revenue?” Dance, who opposes eliminating the tax, said Thursday.
Del. Bob Purkey, R-82, has introduced legislation to phase out the tax in the past, arguing that it would promote business growth in the state by encouraging companies to locate here. At times, Purkey’s machinery and tools tax bills have come close to passing. He has proposed the legislation again this year.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Sen. Frank Ruff speaks with one of his Prince George County constituents Thursday.
“I may be wrong, but I don’t think that this will get as many votes as it did last year, but I may be wrong,” Ingram said at the meeting. “I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, because you never know what’s going to happen over there. But that would hurt the localities a lot.”
Ruff said he believes a thorough examination of taxes should be conducted, but objects to targeting one, particular tax.
“We need to sit down and look at all the taxes, who pays them why are they paying them, is that the best way of dealing with it, the most productive way of dealing with it, and is it the fairest way of dealing with it and then, if you’re going to do something then, do it globally,” he said. “Don’t take one tax and say we’re going to do this and then ignore everything around it.”
Another board legislative request was tailored in the wake of a $2 billion dollar settlement between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the U.S. Department of Justice that includes plans close four of five state run training centers for intellectually disabled individuals, shifting approximately 1,000 current center residents into community based settings.
With Southside Virginia Training Center in Dinwiddie first on the list for closure, the county is expecting a proliferation of group homes in its neighborhoods.
The board is requesting legislation that would require the state to “notify each affected locality upon receipt of an application for a group home,” and “consider including any conditions recommended by the locality as a condition of approval.” The proposed legislation would also require the state to justify any refusal to incorporate local conditions by providing “clear and convincing’ evidence that the conditions cannot be achieved.”
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Supervisor Bill Robertson got in some extra time with Del. Riley Ingram on Thursday.
At a regular board of supervisors meeting in June, six members of the public, many of whom lived near a group home, addressed the board, complaining that they had no warning that the home was going to be located near them.
At that meeting, County Attorney Steve Micas said that localities have very little control over group homes, with the State Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services possessing most of the authority to regulate them.
At Thursday’s legislative meeting, Dance said that she and Ingram have submitted a bill based on language drafted by Micas that would provide the county with notification and the opportunity to propose conditions.
“I personally think it’s an excellent idea, if we can do it,” Ingram said.
Ruff said he would support such legislation if it reaches his desk.
Two transportation related items appeared on the board’s list of legislative requests, including one to require the design of the new 460 toll road to connect directly with I-295 or I-95, rather than rejoining the existing Rt. 460 as currently planned.
The commonwealth has expressed a willingness to consider resetting the road’s western terminus, but has not made any promises.
“I think that all of us are on board with that and I have worked for it,” Ingram said, referring to Dance, Ruff and himself.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Del. Riley Ingram listens at Thursday’s legislative meeting in Prince George County.
“I’ve talked with some of the commissioners,” he added. “They told me that it’s not concrete, this design, and that they’re looking now into changing this.”
Ruff said that while he believes signing a contract before fixing an ending point for the new road was a mistake, the matter is now beyond the General Assembly’s authority.
“There’s not much we can do,” he said. “It will not be before the General Assembly.”
In response to the question of why the commonwealth signed a contract with a construction enterprise prior to ironing out the details of the terminus, Martha Burton with the Crater Planning District Commission, said that the project has been a long term priority for Governor Bob McDonnell, and one that he wants to make sure is underway before the end of his term.
“This is something that he absolutely has been working on since he was a member of the house and if he couldn’t get it done, it probably wouldn’t have ever gotten done,” she said.
She said that if a contract had not been signed prior to the opening of the 2013 session, some legislators might have set their sites on the money and tried to move it towards other projects.
“But now that the contract is signed, the Governor feels like it’s a project that he can accomplish,” she said.
All three representatives agreed that they oppose the installation of a toll gantry on I-95 between Richmond and the North Carolina border, a proposal V-DOT is currently developing.
Del. Rosalyn Tyler, who represents the region of the state where the toll would be installed, has introduced a bill that would prohibit tolling on I-95 without the approval of the General Assembly.
While the regional representative oppose tolls on I-95 South of Richmond, they indicated an openness to placing I-95 tolls elsewhere in the state, namely in northern Virginia where traffic and income levels are higher.
“I see that we need a comprehensive package...,” Dance said. “Paying at the gas tank is not going to be enough money to take care of all our ills. The tolls are not going to be enough money to take care of all our ills.”
The topic of raising the gas tax slightly, and indexing it so that the tax rate would rise as gas prices fall or fall as gas prices rise, was also discussed. The board indicated that a modest increase in the gas tax would be preferable to a toll.
“I think that if there is a solution that is done, I think it’s going to be a combination of things. It’s going to be...one of those things where you don’t like it, but you know something has to be done, so it’s going to be a little bit here a little bit there a little give and take on everybody’s part,” Ingram said. “I think that’s what it’s going to take is going to be compromises to solve this problem we have. But we definitely do have a problem.”
The Federal Highway Administration will have to approve V-DOT’s proposal for tolls, something Ruff said he doesn’t think will happen.
“I don’t think they’re going to approve this,” he said.
He argued that federal regulations stipulate that tolls cannot be placed on existing interstate unless the revenue will be used to improve the road.
“...That does not mean maintenance, it means improving,” Ruff said. “It means putting in new ramps, new exits, new lanes.”
North of Fredericksburg, he said, is where traffic would require such improvements.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Sen. Frank Ruff and Supervisor Robinson discuss the county legislative requests.
Other items discussed included county requests to return Line of Duty Act funding to the state and a request that the General Assembly and Governor of Virginia accept and implement the full expansion of Medicaid as provided by the Affordable Care Act, an item that the District 19 Community Services Board requested be placed on the agenda, County Administrator Percy Ahscraft said.
The General Assembly will convene tomorrow in Richmond.