Virginia senate candidates share platforms during Scott candidate forum

Holly Viers • Oct 21, 2019 at 6:30 PM

GATE CITY — Virginia Senate candidates got a chance to share their views with voters during Thursday evening’s candidate forum.

Hosted by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce, along with New Peoples Bank, Addington Oil, and Food City, the event welcomed candidates for Virginia’s 40th Senatorial District, Virginia House of Delegates First Legislative District, constitutional offices, Board of Supervisors and school board. Candidates were given questions prior to the forum and were encouraged to answer the questions during their speaking time, though it wasn’t required.

Senate candidates were asked the following questions: “What can be done to help local governments’ budget shortfalls created by state and federal mandates?” and “Rural communities like Scott County depend on grant funding for economic development and infrastructure projects. These grants are consistently encumbered by state reviews that do not add value to the project but cause excessive delays and add costs to the projects. What can be done about this?” Below are each candidate’s responses.

Todd Pillion (Republican)

“The first question has to do with budget shortfalls due to state and federal government. Of course, the best way to prevent a local budget shortfall is never to pass … a mandate to begin with. As a member of the House appropriations committee, I see room for improvement on how we can better manage programs and cut government waste. By doing so, we can save taxpayers money and use the money on local priorities to alleviate the burden on localities who increasingly feel the squeeze on education, and as Scott County knows far too well, regional jails. One area we’re working on … is the drug crisis and making sure we reinvest those savings into treatment options. People agree across the board, this is an issue that we can’t arrest our way out of, and our jails are full of people dealing with addiction.”

“The second question has to do with grant funding. Grant funding is critical to so many projects and initiatives in Southwest Virginia. I’ve worked with local, state, federal partners to make sure we do everything we can to support projects to compete and win funding opportunities. Our folks here in Scott County and all over Southwest Virginia are pros in that and do a great job. As public money, we should always make sure that grant dollars are good investments and that there are reasonable, and I stress reasonable, accountability mechanisms in place. I’m a fiscal conservative, and I want to make sure tax dollars are doing what they should be doing. Doing so cuts waste and potentially frees up more resources that we can compete for.”

Kenneth “Ken” Heath (Independent)

“On unfunded mandates, it’s simple: If the federal and state government can’t pay for the impact, then we shouldn’t allow them to skip out on their constitutional responsibility and pass those costs on to the localities. In 2012, the Republican delegate from Stafford offered House Bill 117, in which he stated, ‘Virginia must refrain from imposing additional unfunded mandates, because they harm local government budgets, adversely affect local services delivering, and increase reliance on limited existing taxing mechanisms.’ In short, ‘Stop it.’ But that bill was killed and left in committee. It’s time to stand up to political machines that want to promise but leave us with empty pocketbooks here at home, and I’ll stand up to stop those unfunded mandates.”

“Secondly, the question asks about state reviews and oversight that add no value to grant funding on projects, because excessive delays add costs to the project, essentially taking money from grant funds that we need here to complete important work to offset salaries and operational budgets of state agencies. We have a great state workforce, make no mistake, but I personally, through my work, have seen where grants we’ve relied on are shrinking, and more and more are going to admin costs, leaving us fewer dollars to do with, or having to come up with out of the local taxpayer’s pocket. I believe in streamlining projects, getting the most good for the most people and doing so without the additional encumbrances that we’ve seen on grant-funded projects here of late.”

*Note: This is a second in a series of stories from the candidate forum.