By a five to one margin, speakers at last night’s town hall meeting in the most conservative area of Fairfax County spoke in favor of increased funding of the state budget. Many spoke specifically in favor of the Senate’s plan, with a few asking that transportation funding be restored.
Del. Gary Reese (R-Oak Hill) organized the meeting and apologized to the audience for the legislature’s inability to pass a budget, saying he was “deeply disappointed.” Attending were Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, Sen. Jay O’Brien and as an onlooker, Del. Brian Moran who represents Alexandria. Cuccinelli simply thanked people for coming. O’Brien was late and made no remarks. None of the lawmakers made any comment after the testimony to explain their position or reactions to the pleas of their constituents.
An unofficial count was 36 speakers in favor of increased funding and seven opposed to new taxes. About 100 people attended the meeting.
Mike Anzilotti, a resident in the area and head of the Virginia Business Council, asked O’Brien and Cuccinelli where the money was coming from for transportation. Anzilotti, a retired bank executive and Republican who is frustrated with the conservative wing of the party, stressed the need for infrastructure investment.
[Editor’s Note: Do we have anyone who could challenge Cuccinelli in the Republican primary next time?]
The first three speakers were against higher taxes, but then the meeting ascended into a litany of needs and an appreciation for what higher taxes might afford.
One man pointed out that a deputy sheriff’s salary qualifies a family of four for food stamps. Another said “if you signed a no-tax pledge you’re not a politician but an ideologue.”
Another read the amount of increased taxes at different income levels under the Senate plan, a useful tool for countering the “massive” tax charge.
But no one mentioned the negligible growth in the General Fund to counter the accusations that the budget has grown wildly in recent years. That point should be assigned to at least one person at every meeting.
Community activist Frank Blechman said he would use only a few seconds of his time to ask a question: What were the lawmakers doing to give local governments new sources of revenue? He then said he would leave the remainder of his three minutes for the lawmakers to respond. Reese ruled him out of order and refused to answer the question, telling him if he didn’t like the rules he could leave. Cuccinelli, O’Brien and Reese often say they oppose more taxes because Fairfax doesn’t get its “fair share” and express dismay over rising property taxes but won’t vote for tax equalization. A later speaker noted the incident and said, “I’ve never been to a meeting where a voter asked a question and was shown the door.”
An unemployed man said he doesn’t like taxes but enjoys the quality of life here and was willing to pay more taxes for it. Rick Baumgarten, who in August resumes his past role as president of the Fairfax Education Association, said, “We’re judged by how we’re serving the least among us, and I don’t like how we’re serving the least.”
Ron Lieberman said his son, president of the Young Democrats at his high school, register 120 young people to vote. Ron also talked about his daughter, who due to the lack of classes at her Virginia college, will not be able to graduate in four years.
Some of the anti-tax remarks included, “We can’t tax ourselves into prosperity.” One called the Senate leadership extremist. Another speaker used the same term to describe Gov. Warner’s budget and said he felt he was in the “socialist republic of Sully” (the local district). An earlier anti-tax speaker held Colorado up as an example of a state that instituted tax caps and has survive well.
[Editor’s Note: If anyone has information of Colorado’s experience, let me know.]