Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Oakton Patch reports on Keam-Petersen Town Hall

Town Hall Touches on Transportation, ABC Plan

Representatives discuss legislative agendas in Vienna meeting with constituents

Del. Mark Keam speaks to constituents with Sen. Chap Petersen on Saturday at a town-hall style meeting at Vienna's Post 180. Credit Erica R. Hendry
By Erica R. Hendry January 16, 2011 The last time Virginia took any kind of real action on transportation was 1986, and since then, the state "has kind of walked in no-man's land," state Sen. Chap Petersen told constituents gathered in a town hall-style meeting Saturday morning. Petersen (D-34th District) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) met with a packed room of consituents at Vienna's American Legion Post 180 to give brief overviews of their legislative agendas for the legislative session. The two men also talked about a number of Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposals, including his transportation agenda and ABC privatization.   Petersen said the absence of any real plan has resulted in more projects that are supported by public-private partnerships, like the Hot Lanes project between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Transurban and Fluor Enterprises, and to a lesser extent, the Dulles Toll Road. But the most damaging effect of this, Petersen said, was "a lot more bonded indebtedness." "I'm wary of us to continuing to move away from the pay-as-you-go philosophy which has served the state well for almost 100 years," Petersen said. "The problem [with moving away from that is] when the payments you make on your debt starts to overwhelm your priorities. That's where we're getting to as a state with transportation." He said money from things like vehicle fees and gas taxes are exclusively going toward paying off debt, which means when his children come of age "we will have spent their money. And that's a big concern for me." Other factors contributing to debt include the $660 million the state borrowed from its own pension system in order to balance last year's budget. The state will also have to add $17 billion over time to cover the Virginia Retirement System needs of state employees, because people are by and large living longer, Petersen said. "It's not a sexy issue, but our taxpayers are on the line for this obligation," he said. Petersen and Keam also said they expected neither the House nor the Senate to pass McDonnell's plan to privatize Virginia's Alcohol Beverage Control stores. "Based on hallway conversations, I can tell you that on both sides of the aisle, there's not a lot of appetite for that," Keam said. Constituents asked if the pair supported the proposal, or if it had a better chance of passing in this session because of McDonnell's renewed investment in it. Petersen said he is opposed to privatization and would be a ‘no vote' on the proposal introduced in the Senate last week. He said liked that the current system provides a stable source of revenue for the state, and gave it more control over the location and number of the liquor stores. There are currently 332 government-owned ABC stores in Virginia. The governor's plan would allow for up to 800 private ones. Keam said like the governor, he thinks selling liquor is not a core function of the government. But he said he's yet to see a plan that gets the state out of the business without costing the state money or creating three times the amount of liquor stores. "You have to give us a plan that works first," he said. At the time of Keam's town hall meetings in November, the governor intended to privatize all three parts of the liquor business — wholesale, distribution and retail. The current plan only calls for privatizing retail. Keam said a bill on ABC privatization has yet to be filed in the house. Other highlights from the meeting include:
  • Petersen said Virginia's projected economic growth is 3.9 percent. "That's good because that's a positive number, and our last couple numbers were negative. Our economy was literally contracting," he said.
  • A request for a focus on education funding came from Vienna resident John Farrell, who said only four Virginia State institutions – University of Virginia, James Madison University, College of William and Mary and Mary Washington University – were graduating students at a rate above the national average. All other colleges have "alarming" graduation rates, he said, citing four-year graduation rates at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University as 39 and 25 percent, respectively. He said the governor's goal of 100,000 new degrees in next 10 years wasn't realistic until that changed. "There's just no way with those kinds of graduation rates," he said.
  • HJ 637 (Keam-Cole): A bill that would "allow the consideration of military health care experience" – and other skills learned in the military, like heavy equipment operation – in certification process and licensing for emergency medical services personnel or state jobs.
"These folks can get jobs right away. Why send them back to school, for  thousands of dollars and several years, to get a certification when they already have the training?" Keam said.
  • SB 834, which Petersen said was suggested by a constituent, would "allow private contractors to maintain state right of ways in return for small, appropriate advertising."
"I think it's a good idea because if you live along Braddock Road or Maple Avenue, you simply get tired of watching it look like Oklahoma, where the grass is up to your forehead," Petersen said. "If the state doesn't have the money, and someone is willing to do it on their own dime, what the heck? I'm trying to think outside the box here."
  • SB 836, 837, and 838 would "protect homeowners from false foreclosure documents, while requiring creditors to record their assignments in local land records. They also give a standard 30-day notice prior to any foreclosure taking place."   
"I just recently renegotiated my mortgage and discovered the previous mortgage was never recorded at all in the county or state," a Vienna resident named Jack said. 
  • SB 832: A bill that would require all new state-owned buildings more than 5,000 square feet to be built according to LEED standards.
"There's a one to three percent increase in construction costs, but you save on the utilities. And the private industry is moving toward that construction change," Petersen said.
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