- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Deep-blue Arlington County is expected this week to approve a lean legislative package for the 2012 General Assembly in a state Capitol likely to be controlled completely by Republicans.

Already considered somewhat of an outlier by much of deeply purple Virginia, the heavily Democratic, transit-oriented 26-square mile county was not treated kindly in Richmond during this year’s legislative session.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to have a fresh start this year,” Delegate David L. Englin, Alexandria Democrat, said after a recent work session with the county’s board. “When you consider the amount of revenue to the state that Arlington is responsible for, it’s in the best interest of every member of the General Assembly to ensure that Arlington and all of Northern Virginia has its needs met.”

Much of this year’s fallout came from the county’s lawsuit, filed in 2009, to block proposed High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes along Interstate 395.

As a result, Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax Republican, helped kill a bill this year to extend the sunset date of an additional 0.25 percent on a hotel tax that would have generated an estimated $3 million for the country through 2015.

Mr. Hugo’s reasoning, he said at the time, was that if the county had a million dollars to spend on a lawsuit like that, then they didn’t need the money that would come from the tax.

The bill was killed, and the county ultimately billed just shy of $2 million for the lawsuit, which also incensed the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who supported the HOT lanes plan. The state eventually abandoned efforts to build the project on I-395 in February, and Arlington subsequently dropped the lawsuit.

And despite a heavy push by retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, a bill to increase taxes on online travel companies that could have generated about $2 million for the county and as much as $30 million for the state failed to pass as well.

“All of a sudden, the sleeping giant of the online travel industry was awakened, and the process ground to a halt,” said Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat, who has been meeting with the hospitality industry in hopes of reviving the proposal.

When asked after the work session about any perceived bias against the county, board member J. Walter Tejada sighed.

“We in Northern Virginia are going to stay true to our values,” he said. “We feel that we have major gridlock. There isn’t anything else we need to know other than we need to solve it. That is not the priority of rural areas.”

“It’s a figment of their imagination,” he continued. “It’s some fantasy place that doesn’t affect them.”

Arlington board members also vociferously oppose a constitutional amendment that would expand the state’s eminent domain laws. The county formally opposed the amendment in its 2012 legislative package.

Mr. Brink, though, acknowledged that the proposed amendment was likely to pass the state legislature, saying it would be a “huge financial windfall” for lobbyists and lawyers with the additional litigation it could bring from property disputes.

State Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat who could lose her spot as chairman of the powerful Privileges and Elections committee under a Republican-controlled Senate, said the proposed amendment might not get out of committee, though.

“I wouldn’t throw in the towel,” she said.

Mr. Tejada, a Democrat, noted there were about 24 anti-illegal-immigrant bills filed during last year’s assembly session, including one that would bar illegal immigrants from enrolling in public colleges and universities. The county’s legislative package supports access to in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and technical schools for undocumented students — but Sen.-elect Adam P. Ebbin, Arlington Democrat, told the board not to hold out hope.

“I wouldn’t expect anything good,” he said. “It’s a question of how much bad is brought up and what would get through the Senate.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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