Sen. Janet Howell (D) and her challenger Patrick Forrest (R) met for a debate forum Monday morning, in which no topic became more a point of contention than the Dulles Toll Road.
At a taping of Reston Impact on Monday morning, the candidates answered questions from a panel of journalists, composed of reporters from the Sun-Gazette, Connection Newspapers and Patch.
The show broadcast Wednesday on Channel 28 in Reston. Click here to watch video of the forum.
Here are some highlights from the debate:
Dulles Toll Road
Howell: "My opponent has been claiming there are going to be $17 tolls, but of course that's nonsense. Nobody, nobody would tolerate $17 tolls, especially not me. So I've been working to make sure the tolls stay low."
She said the cost estimates for Phase 2 have dropped from as high as $3.8 billion last spring to $2.8 billion. She said she has asked Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to commit money from the commonwealth to the Dulles Rail project to relieve toll fees. She also wants Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) money for the project. She also wants to see more from MWAA, suggesting it set a toll for the access road because "that's only fair, that's only just." She also wants MWAA to impose fees on airlines because the project not only helps Northern Virginia, but also the airport.
Referring to Forrest's "No $17 Tolls" campaign: "It's an issue that everybody, including the Sun-Gazette, has called bogus. There aren't going to be $17 tolls. Tom Davis, who is on the Airports Authority board and is a former Republican congressman, has said nobody can say with a straight face what the tolls will be. And the head of the Airports Authority himself says he doesn't even know where these ideas are coming from."
Forrest: "I don't know where to start, there are so many falsehoods in that statement. The number that we are citing is from MWAA's own documents. I don't know if they were meant to be public, but we made them public."
He accused Howell of not being part of the solution and being late in requesting money from the governor. He said the bulk of the costs for Dulles Rail "is being put on the backs of Northern Virginia commuters," and Howell has not used her leadership position within the budget committee to fight against that burden.
Howell: [Using part of her time to answer a different question] "I would like to refer back to the MWAA document that my opponent has mentioned for being the basis for his whole fraudulent campaign about $17 tolls. That was the musings of one member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board. It was not staff. It was not official. And it was confidential."
Forrest: [Using part of his time to answer a different question] "My opponent also brought up Tom Davis, who is on MWAA and who has been very active in building and moving forward Dulles Rail Phase 2. Mr. Davis endorses me. Mr. Davis is our constituent. Mr. Davis said he will vote for me."
Solving Other Transportation Issues:
Forrest: "There is a huge disconnect right now between land-use issues and transportation issues. Transportation issues are determined at the state level. Land-use issues are determined at the local level. This is a disconnect I will not allow to continue. It just makes sense if you want to have smart roads, you want to have smart planning. [If] you want to continue to have the suburban quality of life that we have here in Reston, those two processes need to work together, hand in hand."
He said he would put forth legislation that would give local jurisdictions authority over transportation issues.
Howell: "The reality is that we're going to have to come up with more funding for transportation. ... Just for an example, Northern Virginia alone faces $1 billion in maintenance needs. Statewide we have $4.7 billion in needs to bring our bridges up to standard. We can't keep avoiding the issue. We're going to have to raise some funds to pay for transportation."
Forrest: [Using part of his time to answer a different question] "Senator Howell's actions do not meet her words. Along party lines, she killed bipartisan legislation which would've brought traffic dollars to Northern Virginia to help with congestion relief. If she was serious about helping our area and standing up for our area against party bosses, then she would've supported this legislation that was supported and sponsored by Delegate LeMunyon that would have prioritized congestion relief. But to do that would've meant to go against party leadership and would have threatened the position on the powerful committees that she brags about."
Local vs. State (The Dillon Rule)
Howell: "I've always had concerns with the Dillon Rule. It does not make any sense to me that all the decisions have to be started in Richmond, that the local government can only do what we tell them to. There are only three states, I believe, that are Dillon Rule states, and I think it's about time we change that system here in Virginia."
Forrest: "I don't have much to add to that. I actually agree with Senator Howell on that issue."
Howell: "I am a very strong supporter of rights for gays and lesbians. I do support them being able to adopt. I have repeatedly voted to give employment protections to them and to keep discrimination out of our state. This has been a very bad era for gays and lesbians of Virginia. We've passed a constitutional amendment, that I opposed, that means they cannot marry, but can't even have civil unions."
She touted two bills she sponsored which gave employers the ability to offer medical and life insurance to domestic partners.
Forrest: "I do not believe that the government has any right to come into people's personal lives and tell them how to lead their personal lives. I think it is unacceptable to discriminate against anyone for any reason, and I will fight to make sure the government does not use its authority to discriminate against people and to drive a wedge between people. So I will always be a zealous advocate for minority rights, a zealous advocate for under-served communities, just like I have in my professional career up to this point."
Right to Work
Forrest: "If it's not broken, don't fix it. Virginia is a right-to-work state and I think it's working incredibly well. I think we need to uphold the status quo on that."
He said Howell has been a proponent for labor agreements in Phase 2 of Dulles Rail, which he said has been one of the reasons the cost has increased.
Howell: "Well there you go again misrepresenting my position. I actually agree with you. We are a right-to-work state and I don't see any need to change that. ... I don't know where he got the idea that I'm pushing for a project labor agreement. What I have said is, just as it was in Phase 1, a voluntary project labor agreement if the contractors want to have one, they should be able to do it."
Education — King's Dominion Rule
Howell: "For my first many years, I opposed changing the King's Dominion Rule, but things have changed over time. For the last four or five years, I have been voting to give local school boards the option as to when to start their schools. They were persuasive. Parents were persuasive. Times have changed. This rule needs to change, as well.
Forrest: "My opponent is a professional politician who is good at spin. Let me tell you the facts. The fact of the matter is this: She voted for the Kings Dominion Law, which took away authority from local jurisdictions to determine what was best for our kids. Now she has changed her position, to her credit, but the reality is the law is in effect and she supported it."
He said her initial backing of the law came because she caved to the tourism industry downstate. He said if she was serious about allowing our students to start school before Labor Day, she would have requested a waiver, which is allowed by law.
Correction: The article has been corrected to show Sen. Howell said the state is facing $4.7 billion in maintenance needs regarding transportation.