Forcing online travel companies to pay all state and local taxes and fighting a proposed state constitutional amendment to broaden eminent domain laws are among the top items on Arlington County’s legislative agenda.
The county’s seven-member legislative delegation received the agenda Tuesday morning with varying degrees of optimism.
Some were flatly pessimistic given their duty of dealing with an estimated $1 billion-or-so budget shortfall and further cuts to state agencies.
The 20-20 state Senate power split that resulted from this year’s elections is also a consideration. The parity gives Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling the tiebreaking vote, and Democrats already are preparing to go to court over the extent of Bolling’s power – specifically when it comes to Senate rules and committee structure.
“Look at the complexion of the incoming General Assembly, and there’s not much room for optimism,” said Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington.
At the top of the county’s three-page legislative agenda is ensuring the collection of applicable state and local taxes from online travel companies like Expedia.com – an effort championed last year by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, who is retiring, and one that could generate an estimated $5 million to $10 million statewide.
Brink said legislators are reaching out to their peers across the state, particularly in coastal areas, to try to build enough support to pass the measure. Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette praised Whipple’s previous work in spreading awareness of the issue.
“It is the right issue. It benefits not only Arlington, but many others,” Fisette said. “I’d hate to see the momentum lost.”
The county also opposes an effort to expand state eminent domain laws – laws that allow the government to take or use private property for the public good. A proposed state constitutional amendment would require cities and counties to pay compensation for “lost profits and lost access” and eliminates job creation and economic development from the realm of the public good. The .
County officials say such a change in eminent domain laws would hurt all sorts of projects – from a five-mile streetcar project along Columbia Pike to temporarily closing streets to fix water mains – and restrict the county from holding a laundry list of events, from the Marine Corps Marathon to Clarendon Day.
“It’s going to be great for the lawyers, but it’s going to be a disaster for Virginia,” Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said.
Among the county’s other legislative priorities:
- Retaining local taxing authority, restoring state funds to cities and counties, and opposing unfunded mandates;
- Ensuring full transportation funding, including the state’s long-term commitment to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority;
- Shifting power from the state to local governments over matters of employee benefits, taxing authority and land use;
- Opposing anti-immigration bills, establishing a drug court, and restoring abortion rights.
Missing from the county’s list is reinstating Arlington’s 0.25-percent hotel occupancy tax, money that is collected by hotels and used strictly to promote tourism here. The hotel industry is mounting an effort to revive that tax, but the county is not working on it, said Pat Carroll, Arlington’s state legislative liaison. The current tax expires Jan. 1 thanks to a disagreement in the General Assembly last year.
The devolution of power from the state to local government was a broad theme of Tuesday’s conversation between the county board and Arlington’s legislative delegation.
State Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, talked about a general “hostility” toward cities and counties in Richmond. Zimmerman criticized “the extremists who control the majority party these days” as people who wanted to “wreck” local services.
Anything that takes power from local governments and centralizes it in Richmond is the antithesis of conservatism, several officials said.
“When they’re being really hypocritical, and this is one of the grossest examples of that… We need to be shining a very bright light on that,” Zimmerman said.
Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, said he was working on a measure that would give local governments the authority to outright ban smoking in public parks – .
Sen.-elect Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington, said he was considering re-introducing legislation that would allow local governments to offer health insurance for other members of their employees’ households.
Such a move would give Arlington the long-sought power to provide benefits to employees who have same-sex partners.