To the Editor:
Last month, House and Senate Republicans in the General Assembly offered state budgets that shortchanged our area, and I joined my Senate Democratic colleagues in rightly rejecting those budget proposals.
Since Governor McDonnell first unveiled his budget last December, I proposed and have been fighting for two key amendments that matter greatly to our area: $300 million in additional state funding for Phase 2 of the Dulles Rail project and $65 million to restore Cost of Competing funds for Northern Virginia school divisions.
Last week, the General Assembly began a Special Session to continue work on the budget. Not only did the Virginia Senate break a stalemate and pass a budget on a strong 36-4 bipartisan vote, the Senate budget we passed contained both of my amendments.
The additional funds for Phase 2, along with $150 million the state has previously committed, will help prevent tolls on the Dulles Toll Road from skyrocketing out of control, put Virginia in a better position to obtain some federal funding, and boost momentum for the project. Without the additional funding, tolls along the Dulles Toll Road could double next year and reach $6.75 by 2018 for a one-way trip.
The “cost of competing” education funding helps Northern Virginia school divisions hire staff taking into account our region’s higher cost of living. Governor McDonnell’s budget plan completely eliminated those funds, costing our schools $65 million dollars. The previous House and Senate Republican budgets only partially restored those funds. Northern Virginia taxpayers send plenty of money down to Richmond and we deserve our fair share back.
Now the budget is at a critical stage. House Republicans rejected the bipartisan Senate Budget, and it is now in conference. Loudoun County has seven representatives in the House of Delegates, all Republicans, who together form an important voting bloc. They can help pass a budget that includes my initiatives to keep tolls down and restore school funding for Northern Virginia. I hope you will join me in urging them to reverse their position and support the bipartisan Senate budget that better meets the needs of our area.
State Sen. Mark Herring, 33rd District