Healthy debate for breakfast

Published 8:53 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

FRANKLIN—State elected officials met with local leaders and citizens to discuss legislative matters over eggs and bacon during the Eggs & Issues breakfast at Franklin Baptist Church on Tuesday.

In attendance were Dels. Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, and William Barlow, D-Smithfield, and Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Frederick Quayle, R-Suffolk.

As Gov. Bob McDonnell reviews the two-year $82 billion budget for 2010-2012, Quayle acknowledged that having former Gov. Tim Kaine draft the document was an unusual feature of Virginia politics.

“It may seem strange that a governor who is getting ready to leave office in two weeks is proposing a budget for the next two years after he is going to be gone,” Quayle said. “It is a little strange, and it’s a system that I think one day we have got to change.”

Quayle said the House of Delegates and the Senate each reworked the budget to their own liking and submitted it to McDonnell for approval. After possible changes by the governor and actions by the General Assembly, the new budget would take effect July 1.

“There were quite a few things that had been put into the (Kaine’s) original proposal that had concerned people,” Quayle said. “One was the suggestion that localities do away with their local treasurers and commissioners of the revenue and turn the financial matters over to a finance director that the city, county or town would select.”

Quayle said eliminating the two constitutional offices was very unpopular. Keeping the two offices, he said, “gives a little degree of independence to the money involved in a locality’s budget.”

State cuts in spending on K-12 education were also discussed.

“We have worked very hard over the years to add funds to K-12 public education,” Quayle said. “All of the years that I have been there I think we have added funds every year to K-12 education, except with perhaps last year. This year for the first time we realized that because of the size of the cuts that we were forced to make to keep the budget balanced we had to make some cuts.”

Although the current budget makes a $253 million cut in K-12 education over the next two years, a proposal in the House of Delegates to cut K-12 another $400 million was rejected.

“In the end (the cuts) were not nearly as bad as we thought that they would be,” Quayle said.

Lucas concurred.

“Education took deep cuts,” Lucas said. “When we went to the General Assembly this year, the budget was our primary challenge. As we worked to craft the Senate budget, it became very clear that many previously unimaginable cuts would be necessary to produce a balanced budget.”

Transportation issues were also discussed, including a proposal to build a limited-access toll road from Petersburg to Suffolk parallel to U.S. Route 460.

“Gov. McDonnell has said he wants to do everything he can to promote transportation,” Quayle said, adding that the 460 toll road “is supposed to be a public-private partnership, but you don’t have a partnership unless both parties put something in. The state doesn’t have anything to put in. So it really is not a public-private partnership at this point.

“(McDonnell) wants these private companies — some are from around the world — to come up with a proposal that will create that highway, (and have it) built and maintained purely on the basis of tolls and without any input from the state. I hope that can happen.”

Barlow said rail was an area that the entire U.S., not just Hampton Roads, needed to improve upon.

“We’ve got to get more people onto the rails, not only for passengers but also for transporting goods,” Barlow said. “We could greatly improve the efficiency and productivity of our port if we could get goods from the port to the Midwest as quickly as possible.”

Barlow said the port in New York is currently able to deliver goods faster to the Midwest because cargo containers are double-stacked out of Hampton Roads and can’t pass through the mountains and tunnels in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky to get to the Midwest that way.

“It won’t be too long before we can get those double-stacks through there,” Barlow said. “It will benefit our area by having a more productive port, and that means better pay and a better quality of life for all of us.”