Incumbent Sen. Chap Petersen (D) and Republican challenger Gerarda Culipher faced off Thursday night in one of the first debates of the 34th District Senate race.
The debate at Vienna's American Legion gave the more than 60 residents that filled the hall an early glimpse of the candidates' positions on roads, businesses, jobs and taxes.
The "new 34th District" now includes more of Centreville and Chantilly, along with its long-standing base of voters in Vienna, Oakton, Fairfax City, as well as parts of Burke and Annandale.
Candidates clashed early in the debate on environmental regulations and tax credits.
Culipher took issue with Petersen's recent legislation that eliminated a "grandfather clause" for the Pickett Road Tank Farm, which Petersen said has been a source of petroleum spills and water contamination, particularly in the Accotink Creek, over the past generation.
The legislation requires it to meet safety and environmental standards, including "instituting “double bottoms” on the tanks, lining the containment ponds, and raise the pipes above-ground," Petersen said
Culipher said it was not the legislature's role to do that, but "precisely the place of our state and federal court systems to articulate and demonstrate injury and then address it," Culipher said. "Using a regulatory environment to identify and punish behaviors is outside the scope of our traditional understanding of the parts of government, the separated three parts of government. I support traditional understandings of the three separation of powers even at the state level."
"We passed a bill to shut that place down, I make no apologies for that," Petersen said. "If you own a business that pollutes our stream waters in Northern Virginia, let me tell you something, I'm going to do what I can to protect my constituents, I have no problem with that. Businesses that play by the rules? They’re going to be fine. But businesses that pollute our stream beds, we’re going to come after them."
The issue came up again during a question about Vienna's Wolftrap Creek, which
Taxes were the source of several other audience questions.
"By cutting taxes you can in fact raise revenue," said Culipher, whose campaign has centered largely on cutting voters' commutes and taxes.
She then pointed to for those who give direct financial contributions to major transportation projects. She points to the current daycare facility tax credit as a model for that credit.
"We have talked for ages about how we in Northern Virginia can get more of our tax dollars back from Richmond. With this tax credit, local companies, local taxpayers can use local dollars for local roads needs," she said. "We don't lose that money to Richmond, we keep it here in our neighborhoods."
Petersen said Culipher's proposal doesn't take into account the large negative impact the program would have on the state's general fund. He defended his own support of gas taxes over the past four years, saying they were a way to ensure that those traveling through Virginia helped pay for use of local roads, too.
"When you give someone a tax credit what you're doing is you're puling a dollar away from the general fund, and for every dollar you take out of the general fund that's a dollar less for public schools, public safety, law enforcement, you name it," he said. "So if you don't believe in those institutions then you may not have a problem with that, but for those of us who send their kids to public schools that may be a problem."
About two dozen local high school students, earning required government hours, were among those at the debate. They posed the only question the candidates did agree on: Would they support lowering the drinking age to 18?
Both candidates said no.
Patch will run video clips of all voter questions over the next few days. Check back for more questions and answers with candidates.
Watch these questions by clicking the videos in the media player above:
Question 1: What are some ways to increase revenue in the commonwealth, ways to increase businesses and industries?
Question 2: If you want to cut taxes how will you pay for all services covered by those taxes, and, Why do so many feel it’s good to cut spending on programs which help one segment of the population but not ok to raise taxes on another segment of the population?
Question 3: Do you feel that we let too many out-of-state
students come to our state schools?
Question 4: Recently a construction project at a country club in Vienna created quite a bit of muddy runoff in Wolftrap Creek and many complaints were made. State agency inspectors approved resumption of work but waters remained muddy. What is your position
on making erosion requirements in Virginia more strict?
This article has been updated.