While Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) was making his rounds in South Carolina, Sen. Richard Saslaw and Del. James Scott took questions from area residents at a town hall meeting in Falls Church on Saturday.
Saslaw (D-35th District), who represents the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County, and Scott (D-53rd District) took questions for more than an hour about the Virginia General Assembly, minute local issues and the “Labor Day Law.” Several Virginia school districts want the law repealed because it calls for schools to open after Labor Day and they want to begin before the holiday.
Saslaw, who helped write the law, made an announcement that brought cheers from educators in attendance at the meeting.
“I’m about to throw in the towel,” Saslaw said who admitted he was a driving force behind shooting down previous repeals of the law written in 1986. “I’ve talked to most of the school boards and I told them they better turn their students into Einstein’s or we’ll bring it back.”
Entering his 37th General Assembly, Saslaw spoke about the need to increase the state’s gas tax. The former owner of several area gas stations, Saslaw said this is one of the areas he has an expertise in. He said Virginia’s gas tax (17.5 cents) is lower than neighboring West Virginia (33 cents) and North Carolina (35 cents). Increasing the gas tax would not increase the price of gasoline, Saslaw said. He said increasing the gas tax would allow Virginia to fund various projects, including road construction, without having to dip into the general fund. Saslaw said for every dollar spent from the general fund, that’s 34 cents taken from public education.
“If we’re going to raise taxes to build roads, I’m fine with that,” Saslaw said to the crowd of about 40 people. “But don’t build the roads on the backs of our public school districts who receive funds from the general fund.”
Saslaw said since McDonnell believes he has a chance to get on the Republican ticket as a vice president running mate, he won’t do anything to effect that. He said it would be more difficult to get things passed in this General Assembly, which convened Jan. 11, because of the 20-20 split in the House and McDonnell’s lobbying to get on the ticket.
Scott agreed with his counterpart.
“The problem is we can’t get a consensus to raise the gas tax in Richmond,” Scott said.
The senator told the room the best way Northern Virginia residents could effect change in the state is to register to vote and go to the polls. He said income taxes in Northern Virginia are the highest in the state and much of the state depends on what happens in this region. He said if Northern Virginia were taken out of the equation, you would have a state that mimicked Mississippi.
“It was 50 years ago we were a rural state with a rural tax structure,” Saslaw said. “Now, we’re an urban state with a rural tax structure and that’s not working.”