2019 Vienna legislative-priorities package

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th), at right, makes a point as Vienna Town Council member Pasha Majdi and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) listen Nov. 5, 2018, during a discussion about the town's 2019 legislative agenda. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

The Vienna town government’s draft 2019 legislative agenda looks decidedly similar to ones of yore and continues to ask the General Assembly to maintain adequate state funding and not further reduce local authority.

Vienna Town Council members hashed over the draft legislative agenda at a Nov. 5 work session with state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th).

The Council at an upcoming meeting will adopt the agenda. So far, town officials plan to ask state lawmakers to:

• Make sidewalk projects eligible for state transportation funding. Doing so would give the public more transportation options and reduce vehicle use and traffic congestion, town officials said.

• Restore full “599” funding for localities, which helps pay for public-safety services.

• Change the Virginia Department of Transportation funding formula for local road maintenance to provide more funding to localities that maintain their own roads and have streets where traffic volume exceeds statewide averages by more than 20 percent.

• Permit localities in urban and densely populated suburban areas to have greater representation on the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

• Allow localities to “ride” competitively bid contracts in other jurisdictions for certain projects not exceeding $200,000 in value.

• Allow towns within Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties to publish legal notices on the localities’ Websites instead of in newspapers.

• Give Northern Virginia towns one vote as a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

• Give local governments authority to issue tree-canopy credits for developments that preserve medium-sized or large trees on those sites, or allow localities to require developers to ensure that their lots have at least 20 percent tree canopy within a decade, as opposed to the current 20 years.

• Not reduce local-government authority to review and approve applications by wireless-telecommunication providers that would use public rights-of-way.

“I think that the problem isn’t always the locality obstructing the telecom provider,” said Town Attorney Steven Briglia. “The telecom industry is crying wolf a little bit.”

• Amend the state’s 2016 proffer law to allow localities to discuss such offerings by developers and suggest voluntary proffers both on builders’ sites and off-site. The current law inhibits local governments’ ability to obtain adequate contributions from developers to pay for public infrastructure, town officials said.

“It ties the hands of local government in a way that’s completely unreasonable,” Keam said. “They put a sledgehammer to a problem that easily could have been fixed with a scalpel.”

Keam noted both he and Petersen voted against the proffer bill two years ago. While Keam hoped localities would be able to suggest significant changes to the law in the upcoming session, he predicted those alterations would be tough to pass given next year’s short session and the fall elections, during which every General Assembly seat will be on the ballot.

Council members, as they usually do, also plan to support the Virginia Municipal League’s legislative agenda. The organization plans to ask the General Assembly next year to:

• Revamp the state’s formula for education to reflect its true costs, including student transportation, support staff, technology, construction and renovations, and instructional-staff salaries.

• Fund alternative transportation methods to assist people experiencing mental-health crises.

• Restore funding to community-services boards that earlier had seen those funds reduced.

• Boost funding for public transit.

• Allow localities to enforce state laws and local ordinances that pertain to distracted driving.

•  Take steps to put the Equal Rights Amendment before voters.

• Allow local governments to encourage reduced use of disposable plastic bags or regulate the bags’ distribution, sale or availability.

• Remove barriers for distributed solar energy and allow the creation of stronger markets for such energy.

In other matters, Keam said Virginia likely will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues because of a court decision that no longer requires companies to have a physical presence in states in order to be subjected to their tax laws.

Tax-law changes also will prompt some decision-making on the public’s part next spring, Keam predicted. While the federal standard deduction has been raised high enough that taxpayers might want to consider taking it instead of itemizing deductions, Virginia’s standard deductible is not as generous, and taxpayers who went with the federal deductible would have to use the state one as well, he said.

Petersen said in the next session he may propose significant changes for the senior year of high school, saying 12th-graders now often are just in an academic holding pattern before college when they could be spending their time better working or doing internships.

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