GOP freshman learn lessons on promises

Media General News Service


Northern Virginia conservatives are getting the cold shoulder from moderates in the state Senate who are letting their bills sit or die in committee.

Freshmen Sens. Jay O’Brien, R-39th District, Smyth, and Ken Cuccinelli, R-37th District, Fairfax, both went to Richmond this year promising more money for Northern Virginia from the rest of the state and limits to the growth of the state budget and local real estate taxes.

Cuccinelli was surprised this week when the chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee refused to allow a vote on his bill to cap local property taxes.

“I’m not here for the show,” Cuccinelli said after the meeting. “I’m here to accomplish an agenda.”

Cuccinelli is leader of a regional anti-tax movement along with O’Brien and Prince William Delegates Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District and L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District.

His proposal to limit real estate tax increases to 5 percent a year was criticized as unnecessary because local elected officials are accountable to voters. Cuccinelli said the increases squeeze families and retired people with fixed or limited incomes. O’Brien and Marshall have similar bills.

Stafford Sen. John H. Chichester, R-28th District, let the issue die with barely a word.

“It does reflect a different opinion, different philosophies,” said Winchester Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-27th District, a newcomer and centrist to an already moderate finance panel.

Potts chairs the Senate Health and Education Committee, putting a major roadblock to O’Brien’s bill that eliminates in-state tuition benefits for legal aliens. In-state tuition is tied to taxes paid from living in the state and getting legal residency, not legal status, said Fairfax City Sen. Leslie Byrne, D-34th District. O’Brien is reworking the bill for a compromise that extends the benefit to legal immigrants with legal residency.

“Pandering to people who have a fear of immigrants is a way to get votes,” said Byrne, who carried a bill on driver’s license security last year that trumped O’Brien’s House version. Her bill called for the Department of Motor Vehicles to study how to check for legal status of license applicants. The study came back this month: It would be expensive, difficult to implement and would not increase safety. O’Brien introduced a bill to do just what the study said should not be done.

“I’m kind of puzzled what he is trying to accomplish,” she said. “It would do nothing in the long run to increase our security.”

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Marty Williams, R-1st District, of Newport News, reportedly was not going to let O’Brien’s driver’s license bill out of his committee, so O’Brien requested it be dropped from consideration Thursday. He has a watered-down version that the Courts of Justice Committee approved and sent to Chichester’s Finance Committee.

O’Brien defended his motive.

“I don’t see what [Byrne’s] point is … What we need to do is put every obstacle in place to terrorism in America,” he said.

Byrne pointed out that the Sept. 11 terrorists with Virginia driver’s licenses obtained them legally, but he said Georgia police would have detained one of them had his license expired when his legal status expired.

“If they’re allowed to be here or seeking change in status, they qualify,” he said.

Democrats are delighted with the friction among Republicans.

“None of Senator Cuccinelli’s bills seem to be going anywhere,” said Fairfax Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-32nd District, another Finance Committee member.

“It seems the Republican leadership is not supporting them because, I think, there is a feeling his bills reflect a lack of information and understanding of their impact.”

Cuccinelli has a budget request to scale back the Wilson Bridge from 12 to 10 lanes, which Maryland officials and some Virginia lawmakers say is impossible. To do a new design and rebid the work would cost more, Byrne said.

“Senator Cuccinelli has gotten a quick tutorial and found out that a lot of the promises he made aren’t going to come true as easily as he thought,” Byrne said.

Jeff E. Schapiro covers government and politics for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (804) 649-8710.

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