Transportation becomes key issue in 51st district
© Virginia News GroupAs a general rule of politics, candidates running for office for the first time aren't supposed to say that they support higher taxes.
In the wake of the landmark transportation bill that passed the General Assembly last month with bipartisan support, however, that dynamic has changed in Northern Virginia.
On Sunday afternoon, Roy Reed Heddleston sat down for an interview at his Woodbridge home to discuss his candidacy for the 51st House of Delegates district.
The Democrat is running against two-term Del. Rich Anderson (R), who voted against the transportation conference committee's bill on the House floor not long after supporting an alternative transportation plan backed largely by ideologically conservative Republicans.
Heddleston supported the transportation package that passed the state House and Senate under the guidance of Republican leaders like Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28th).
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is the Republican nominee for governor, opposed the bill. The Democratic nominee for governor, Terry McAuliffe, endorsed it.
"I would have voted yes on the transportation bill as a compromise," said Heddleston, adding that he objected to certain funding mechanisms in the bill.
"A compromise is not something you agree with," he added. "That bill benefits Prince William County. That bill benefits the district."
Heddleston quoted a statement Anderson issued explaining his vote against the bill in which he said, "(We) are in times of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty."
"To me, they're not unprecedented and you need to take action," said Heddleston.
He later added, "I'm in favor of raising the gas tax to pay for roads."
As for concerns that the higher regional sales tax in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads may be unconstitutional, Heddleston replied in jest, "It's my understanding that Gov. McDonnell was the attorney general."
McDonnell served as attorney general from 2006 to 2009, when he resigned to run for governor.
"I have to believe that it will pass constitutional muster," added Heddleston.
That said, the Democrat gave the impression that he did not like all the funding streams in the bill but thought the $3.5 billion package deserved an affirmative vote anyway.
In particular, he cited the increase of the Northern Virginia sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent.
"Do I think it's fair? No," said Heddleston. "But how are we going to generate money else-wise?"
The Democrat accused Anderson of voting "against VRE," referring to the Virginia Railway Express, by not supporting the plan.
"I find it difficult to understand how you're going to fund roads without taxes," he also said.
When asked what issues he disagreed with the majority opinion within the state House Democratic Caucus, Heddleston could not identify anything, simply saying he would be willing to vote against his caucus if he thought its members supported something not in the interest of county residents.
He took the position of other state Democratic leaders on opposing use of the General Fund to pay for transportation projects in order to fund the four core services provided by the state government: K-12 education, higher education, public safety and health care.
Heddleston included "welfare" on that list and admonished Republicans for supporting a tuition tax credit designated for private school students, arguing it drains $25 million from the General Fund.
On a related issue, he also opposes state-funded private schools, saying, "I don't think we need charter schools in Prince William County."
He mentioned that all of his children attended public schools in the state and that more money out of the General Fund should be available for education.
Another tax opposed by Heddleston is the $100 annual fee drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, such as hybrids, will have to pay once the transportation bill becomes law.
McDonnell argued early on that such a fee should be implemented because hybrid drivers still use state roads but, because their gas mileage is better than other cars and trucks, they would contribute less money at the pump.
In contrast, Heddleston argued that the weight of trucks are more detrimental to highways than lighter hybrids. Likewise, he supports a higher wholesale tax on diesel fuel, which is included in the bill.
"The people that damage your roads are trucks," said Heddleston.
On taxes in general, the Democrat would vote to eliminate the tax on food within the broader sales tax but did not identify other taxes he thought should be cut.
Anderson and Heddleston also offer contrasting views on social issues though they come from similar backgrounds.
Heddleston is a United States Air Force veteran born as an Army brat in South Korea who graduated from Virginia Military Institute and is now a financial consultant with The Louthan Group in Richmond, serving as the company's managing director for defense and government.
Anderson is also a USAF veteran. He grew up in Roanoke, graduated from Virginia Tech, and is currently Board of Governors chairman for the USAF Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol.
The incumbent is against abortion rights and same-sex marriage; the challenge favors abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Heddleston presented his social views in terms of economic growth, saying that high tech companies with diverse work-forces are are going to be less likely to locate in Virginia if state laws restrict the rights of their employees.
"Do you expect high-tech companies to bring jobs to Northern Virginia?" he asked rhetorically. "They want to get the best people they can" to work for them.
"When you exercise a xenophobic immigration policy, what message do you send" to other companies, added Heddleston.