Gerry mentioned that as Chairman he took actions such as getting rid of the decal fee to reduce the tax burden on working families and will be continuing to look out for the best interests of working families while he is in Congress. The budget that was just passed by the House, for instance, included some tax cuts that will help families during this economic crisis. He also pointed out that it was recently announced that people who are on social security will be receiving a onetime stimulus payment of $250. This will be going to tens of thousands of people in the 11th Congressional District.
There were a few questions that were asked regarding the TARP funds, the stimulus bill, and the budget that the Obama Administration had put forward. In regards to the TARP funding, Gerry noted that he voted against the second release of TARP funds because there wasn’t enough accountability put in place regarding how the funds were going to be spent. As an interesting note, he pointed out that in local government it is sometimes very apparent whether projects are actually being completed. For example, you know if potholes are being fixed or if construction is being completed. While there might be different projects that are taken on by the various levels of government, the same type of transparent atmosphere and accountability needs to happen at the Federal level as well.
In regards to the budget, Gerry said that we have to turn the economy around and this budget makes the investment necessary to help stimulate the economy and create new jobs. It also provides a blueprint for comprehensive health care reform and an energy overhaul which could help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help to create green jobs. Furthermore, it’s important to note that we’re dealing with an economic situation that needed to be immediately addressed. As someone who served for over a decade years on the County Board which requires a balanced budget, Gerry realizes that generally speaking a balanced budget is a good thing. In this circumstance, however, there is going to be a short term increase in the deficit to help our country get out of this financial crisis and he is pleased to see that the Obama Administration has a strategy that would work towards reducing the deficit in the long term.
In addition to his work on some economic issues, Gerry is also serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee and he recently traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq. While he was there the Congressman met with men and women from the Commonwealth of Virginia who were in the region serving their country.
Another frequent topic of discussion was education. In regards to a question about stimulus funding for the local school systems, for instance, Gerry pointed out that Fairfax County will directly get $55 million, $20 million of which would be IDEA money (individuals with disabilities education act). It should be noted that this will save taxpayers some money on their local tax bill and the aforementioned amount doesn’t include the money that will be coming to the through Richmond. Furthermore, this investment is absolutely critical so that we can maintain the high quality of Fairfax County’s schools and help to prepare students for the 21st Century job market.
Another person asked about No Child Left Behind. Gerry pointed out that he believes the overall goals of the legislation might be good, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. As the program is about to come up for reauthorization, the Congressman has made it clear that he has a lot of concerns about the legislation. The first problem with NCLB he pointed out is the fact that it’s an unfunded mandate. As someone who is passionate about local government and served on the County Board of Supervisors, Gerry takes great issue with the federal government putting forward mandates but leaving the local government to fund the program. Some of the standards of NCLB are too rigid and don’t take into consideration large diverse school systems such as Fairfax. He also doesn’t like the idea of putting a large scarlet letter on an entire school just because a relatively small number of students in the school are behind.
As can be expected in a district that is right outside of the nation’s capitol, there was a lot discussion about the federal workforce. Gerry mentioned that he had been working on establishing pay parity for both civilian and military personnel. In a statement that he had released earlier, Gerry briefly explained why he believed this was important.
“Just as our military men and women have distinguished themselves throughout history and particularly during this time of war, our civilian federal employees also perform important work on essential government functions and services,” Connolly said. “During my recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, I saw the critical role civilian employees play in handling logistical support and other vital services to the military, often working side-by-side with our troops in dangerous situations.”These were just a few of the highlights from the town hall meeting and the Congressman did encourage people to get in touch with his office if they had any questions, concerns, or issues they felt passionate about. As many people pointed out, this is a great way for Rep. Connolly and his staff to stay in touch with the public. I’m very pleased to see that his office is taking advantage of some technological advances that can help provide excellent constituent services and look forward to more of these calls in the future.
The language in the House Budget Resolution states: “It is the sense of the House that rates of compensation for civilian employees of the United States should be adjusted at the same time, and in the same proportion, as are rates of compensation for members of the uniformed services.”