Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - March 21, 2019

Session may be over, but my work advocating for the people of the 45th District continues. Since we adjourned sine die on February 24th, I have been petitioning to get myself on the ballot for re-election, catching up on constituent services, working closely with organized labor to advocate that Amazon sign Project Labor Agreements for its HQ2 projects, and organizing my colleagues to urge the Governor to veto or amend bad bills that flew under the radar in the General Assembly.

It's also been great to have more time to be back home in Alexandria and to enjoy the camaraderie of the wonderful people of the 45th District.

Hope to see everyone this Sunday at Mark's Monthly Meetup!

Don't miss this Sunday!

Back on Fox & Friends
(though they aren't that friendly to me)

Returning home, I'm ramping up again in my other job as national pundit. If you've never seen me argue with Republican nonsense before, you may enjoy this clip from Fox & Friends this week, as I defended the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates.

Click above to play my Monday appearance on Fox & Friends

Arlington Approves Amazon Deal

After Amazon Publicly Commits

for First Time to Project Labor Agreements

I have listened very closely to the arguments for or against Amazon setting up its second headquarters (HQ2) in Arlington. Its proposed site for HQ2 is a stone's throw from communities I represent in Arlington and Alexandria, and critics are right to question the new center's impact on housing prices and transportation congestionFurthermore, I have long opposed corporate welfare. And I'm well aware of the criticisms of Amazon's labor practices in other communities.

So why did I nevertheless vote for the deal? Because I believe ultimately that HQ2 is a good thing for our community and the entire Commonwealth, with costs to be sure but benefits that vastly outweigh the costs. I’ll do my best to explain why in some detail below.

First, the state and local money ("corporate welfare") offered Amazon seems huge: half a billion dollars from the state and $23 million from Arlington. Why, critics ask, do we give anything to a massive corporation run by the richest man in the United States? It's a fair question, and I sorely wish we didn't to provide any incentives for Amazon to come here. But I guess I'm just not convinced they'd have come here without them. 

248 localities competed for Amazon to locate there, but we won. These other cities and counties offered incentives far larger than we did. Just across the river in Montgomery County, Maryland, they offered $8 billion to Amazon or 16 times the half a billion Virginia offered!  And yet they came to us rather than a few miles away. I'm confident they came to us because we offer the most educated workforce in the country, as well as empty office space and a transportation system that would allow most Amazon workers to commute without cars.

So, the argument goes, if they'd come all the way to us with us offering only 1/16 of what Maryland did, why not offer them nothing? They'd still come! Well maybe so. And maybe not. It would be a big risk to give nothing, because we get a lot for our money, particularly when you realize that our $500 million comes from all Virginia taxpayers and not just those of us in Northern Virginia. Arlington provided $23 million. And in Alexandria, we get all of the benefits for free. (Way to go, Alexandria!)

So what do we get for our money? The agreement with Amazon provides that Amazon gets zero state or local dollars until the 25,000 jobs they provide (with an average salary of at least $150,000), plus their new investments in Northern Virginia, bring tax revenue to the Commonwealth totalling at least $3.2 billion over the next 20 years. That's six times the amount of revenue to Virginia that the Commonwealth sends back to Amazon in tax revenues. This is revenue that can be used to alleviate housing unaffordability and transportation congestion. Revenue that can be used to increase teachers' salaries, clean up the environment, or provide middle-class tax relief. In essence, Virginia is giving back to Amazon a rebate of 1/6 of its own money to bring jobs to Northern Virginia that Virginia wouldn’t have if Amazon did not come here. The Amazon incentives won't cost the state budget a dime. It will make us $6 for every $1 we spend.  

When someone gives you $6 and you give them $1 back, you're still $5 richer even if you regret giving that dollar back to them. For Arlington, the benefits are even more attractive. Arlington County is expecting to receive more than $300 million, or about $14 for every dollar it is expected to give back to Amazon. And again the money has to arrive in government coffers before the rebate happens.

These state and local projections do not even include additional increases caused by the “multiplier effect,” which is the additional tax revenues generated by the additional expenditures of Amazon employees and visitors who would otherwise not be here without HQ2. Truly it is a fantastic economic opportunity for us to fund state and local needs that would otherwise come out of taxpayer pockets.

Expected location of Amazon's HQ2 Headquarters in Arlington and Alexandria

Second, although there will be additional transportation congestion and housing costs, the money HQ2 brings in is more than sufficient to pay for essential services and investments that we need in these areas. As part of the deal I voted for, the Commonwealth of Virginia is utilizing funds received from Amazon tax revenues to vastly improve our transportation systems and our stock of affordable housing. We can do even better in the future. Indeed, it will be up to those of us that represent you to make sure these state funds keep coming and are spent appropriately. But there are more than enough Amazon tax dollars to ameliorate the problems caused by their coming here, with billions left over for other needs. And if Democrats take over in November (which I hope we do!), you know that affordable housing will be a high priority of ours.

Third, the 25,000+ jobs coming to Crystal City do not even fully replace the 35,000 or so lost over the past decade due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and the loss of the Arlington Patent Office. So we not only have the office-space capacity, we also have the transportation capacity, particularly in Metro, which is expanding capacity with longer cars. Amazon, Virginia, Arlington, and Alexandria are working together to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to construct new pedestrian bridges and provide for new buses and bicycle lanes. With special incentive packages, we expect fewer than half of Amazon employees to even use cars to commute to and from work, while most Amazon employees are expected to use other methods of transportation that impose no more traffic on our streets. Given that we didn’t have the dedicated bus lanes or expanded roads like Potomac Avenue 15 years ago — before BRAC and the Patent Office closed — plus the new transportation investment, I hope we'll find traffic congestion not much worse than it was a decade ago.

Fourth -- and most exciting for Alexandria -- is the fantastic new $1 billion/1 million square foot investment in a new Virginia Tech campus just south of Arlington which should help both Arlington and Alexandria students have easy access to one of the nation's premier “tech talent pipelines."

Fifth, none of this will happen right away. Amazon is expected to have no more than 400 employees in the region by the end of 2019. The slow ramp-up gives state and local governments ample time to prepare. And, as noted, we don't pay back a cent until the new money comes in.

I've written about these five factors at length before, with the most detail in my November 2018 newsletter which was published soon after the deal was announced. Click here to review what I wrote then. 

Click the image above to watch the most important minute in the 11-hour hearing.

But sixth, the one factor that was not resolved until last Saturday was whether or not Amazon would commit to be fair to labor. This was the factor I spent hours, days, and weeks on to make sure they would follow through. I’m not pollyannaish about Amazon’s history of labor impacts in other communities. In January, I sent a letter to Andrea Fava, Amazon's Director of Public Policy, urging her to ensure Amazon's construction and renovation projects are performed under a Project Labor Agreement ("PLA"), just as Amazon's headquarters in Seattle and New York are. But when Amazon's commitment still had not been made publicly before Saturday, I intensely lobbied Amazon officials and Arlington County Board members in the days and hours before their Saturday decision to make sure Amazon put its commitment on the record before Arlington approved the incentive package.

A PLA is a custom agreement that prescribes wage scales, benefits, training, safety, hiring, and working conditions.  Any contractor -- union or nonunion – can bid on the work once a PLA is signed. A PLA ensures that high quality work gets done safely, legally, on time and on budget. Through a PLA, Amazon could help provide a path to the middle class for non-college-bound residents in Arlington and Alexandria. Through a PLA, the region’s residents -- particularly people with low incomes, minorities, and immigrants -- will have access to building-trades apprenticeships that lead to family-supporting jobs with good wages, health care and retirement security. Building-trades apprenticeships are tuition-free training programs that include both classroom and on-the-job training. Apprentices “earn while they learn.” 

And I'm proud to report that in the midst of the hubbub of a contentious public response to the Arlington County Board hearing, the most important minute of the eleven-hour (!) hearing was likely overlooked by most of the public and the media: Amazon's commitment on the record to sign a PLA. Click here to watch it.

Seems boring and technical, perhaps, which is why it was overlooked. 
In fact, it was critical.

I was the only member of the General Assembly to attend Arlington’s Amazon hearing on Saturday, and I did so because at the time I arrived, the commitment had not yet been made. I had worked in the days prior to the hearing and all day Friday to push for the PLA and threatened to speak out publicly against the deal if it were not included.

I’m proud to report that my insistence behind the scenes, combined with dedicated work of members of the Arlington County Board (particularly the Chair Christian Dorsey) was successful in finally getting Amazon last Saturday to publicly comment to these workforce agreements for the first time ever.

Picture at Left: Ginny Diamond, President of the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO, and I were captured in an intense conversation with a local reporter. I was prepared to criticize the deal publicly -- for the first time ever -- if Amazon did not agree to the PLA.

Photo Credit: Craig Hines

The battle is hardly over. It will be up to your state and local elected officials to continue to monitor Amazon's conduct in the decades to come. I have worked hard, both publicly and behind the scenes, to make sure Amazon takes every measure to make sure that this project benefits, first and foremost, the people of the community that Amazon seeks to join. And I pledge to you that I will continue to do everything in my power to maximize the benefits HQ2 brings to our community. I will insist that Amazon pay its fair share in state and local taxes, that it hire as many as local people as possible, and that it uses fair labor practices for its employees. 

With proper oversight, this deal can be a real benefit to the constituents I'm honored to represent and the rest of Northern Virginia and the Metro Washington region. And I will continue to monitor the project to make sure that Amazon acts in good faith and keeps its commitments.

My Bill to Increase Transparency in Health Care Facilities is Now Law

The Governor has signed my bill into law!

HB2425 requires Virginia's healthcare providers to report to the Virginia Department of Health infections and other diseases contracted in their settings.
As Chair and Co-Founder of the Virginia Transparency Caucus, I am committed to using transparency whenever necessary to improve the health and welfare of the people of Virginia.

The Hippocratic Oath of medical professionals says "Do no harm." So when people who are supposed to heal us are accidentally making us sicker, the Virginia Government should be able to track these problems and then take steps to prevent further unnecessary harm. Transparency can save lives.

On March 8th, my bill became law. It will take effect on July 1.

My Thoughts on the New Zealand Massacre

Orlando; South Carolina; Pittsburgh; Christchurch
Gay Bar; Black Church; Synagogue; Mosque

Does it really matter where it occurs?
Or who is targeted?

A hateful man with easy access to a cache of military weapons 
Enters a sanctuary (and yes, a gay club is a rainbow sanctuary),
And commits mass murder against those
Perceived as different from he.


Such hatreds are ancient,
But they have come more alive lately,
Amplified by Trumpism and its apologists.
It's a very small leap from "white identity politics" 
To advocating mass murder.

First they came for somebody else...
But now it's too late.
They're coming for us all.

And who are they?
We have met the enemy
And he is us.

Rest in peace, Christchurch worshippers.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.

In your memory,
And in the memory of the fallen 
In Pittsburgh, South Carolina, and Orlando, [and countless others killed by 
We must dedicate our own lives
To rooting out bigotry of all kinds
And uniting against it.

My Role as Deputy Whip

In legislating, as important as it is to write and advocate for new laws, it is equally vital — if far less glamorous — to carefully examine legislation to find concealed flaws, bring those flaws to light, and if possible, work to improve them

As hard as I work to be a good Caucus Goalie and catch these bills before they hit the net, I cannot stop every bad bill from passing the legislature. And that is where the Governor's veto/amendment pen becomes essential.

Here are examples of some bills I have been urging the Governor to veto, including two notable successes:
HB2253 - Expediting concealed carry permits for non-Virginians
This has been VETOED.
In past newsletters I explained why I questioned Delegate Pogge on her bill, HB2253to make it easier for people outside of Virginia to quickly get a Virginia concealed-carry permit online without having to know anything about guns.
Effectively, it would have made Virginia the country's Oprah of concealed carry permits. 
We actually defeated the bill by a narrow 50-49 vote on House floor, for a time at least. Then Republican Delegate Ransone changed her vote, and the bill passed. (Legislators on the "prevailing side" are allowed to request a "motion to reconsider." When the Republican majority loses a close vote, their leadership pressures members of their caucus to do this. And they invariably do so.) 
Click above to watch my exchange with Delegate Pogge
(if you haven't already).
Upon adjournment of session, I (along with many of my Democratic colleagues) urged Governor Northam to veto this dangerous, costly legislation. The Virginia State Police testified against the bill. Gun violence prevention activists opposed the legislation. And so did every single member of the Democratic caucus in the General Assembly.
I appreciate the Governor's veto of this bill.
SB1156 & HB2270 - Forcing local police to do the work of federal immigration enforcement
These bills have been VETOED.
SB1156 was your standard fare right-wing statement of xenophobia. It said, simply, "No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy intended to restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws."
Of course, this is not possible in the first place: state and local law can not legally

pre-empt federal law, a point I made clear in a short speech on the House Floor by reading from the United States Constitution.
Click above image to watch:

Reading the Constitution on the Floor of the House of Delegates
Similarly, HB2270 was an unwise bill that mandates local law enforcement inform Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when any immigrant is set to be released from incarceration (whether that immigrant is documented or not!)
These bills do not make us safer. In fact, they make immigrants and their families (even those here with permanent residency or citizenship) less likely to contact police about crimes or public safety threats. This would increase crime in our communities.
These laws send a clear message to Virginia's immigrants: you are not welcome here. Obviously I disagree. I appreciate the Governor's veto of these bills.
SB1782 - Permanently banning ex-felons who have paid their debts to society from ever being public notaries. 
This bill felt like a direct attack on a friend of mine who actually notarized the signatures on my voting petitions this year and in years past. Decades ago, in his youth, Frank Anderson was convicted of burglary. But after serving some time in prison, he came out of prison, completely reformed his life, and now proudly serves as Executive Director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Frank, like others in Virginia, is an honorable man who has squarely put his past behind him.
This bill came out of the Senate and the House Committees unanimously. It was flying past us on the House uncontested docket when I read the bill and insisted it be put on the regular calendar so I could vote against it. At the last minute, I urged some of my Democratic colleagues in the House to join me, and 14 of us voted against the bill.
But I knew I had to get more allies to sustain a veto or a bill amendment. After notifying the Governor's office and appealing to my fellow Democrats in the House and Senate, I'm proud to report that we now have a veto-proof 34 Delegates, along with 13 Senators, who agree that this bill must at least be amended to allow people like my friend Frank to keep his job.
Below is a photo of Frank helping me with forms so he can notarize my petition signatures to be on the ballot for re-election. Keep your stamp hand strong, Frank!
I've informed the Governor of the now veto-proof opposition I was able to muster to oppose SB1782 and urged him to veto or amend the bill to protect good people like Frank.
In total, I have argued to the Governor in writing, giving reasons why I believe he should veto or amend, 27 bills that passed the General Assembly in 2019. Here are some of the other bills I've been encouraging him to veto:
HB2142 - A terrible bill to set up a third type of school "security" officer that’s not defined anywhere in code. This bill would put more guns in our schools, without sufficient training of the officers.
HB2260 - Authorizes health insurance companies to offer catastrophic health plans. This "junk insurance" is essentially the health insurance industry's equivalent of predatory payday loans. You think you're saving money, until you get sick and find out you're not covered.
HB2269 - An anti-climate bill to make it so the only way that Virginia can join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (an important collaborative effort among states to reduce climate change) is by two-thirds of the General Assembly agreeing to it. Why would we ever want to put procedural barriers in place to prevent us from taking action to reduce climate change?
HB2764 and SB1038 - Two pernicious voter suppression bills designed to make it harder to vote and to register to vote. 
Legislating is not just about passing good bills.
It's also about defeating bad ones!

Running for Re-Election

As I mentioned last week, I am running to represent the people of the 45th District in the House of Delegates for a third term. I've collected my petitions. They have been notarized (thanks, Frank!) and found to be valid. So I will be on the ballot.

We are just one seat away from parity in the House and the Senate. Two more Democrats in the House and one more in the Senate, and we will have a sea change in Virginia.

We can either have:

Robust funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund OR dismantling of the social safety net

An inclusive Virginia where immigrants and Rainbow (LGBT) Virginians feel welcome and are protected by law OR a Virginia where employers can fire you for whom you love and where immigrants are afraid to report crimes for fear of being deported

A dramatic increase in the minimum wage OR thousands of Virginians working for poverty wages with no job protections or benefits

The list goes on and on. 

In the Community

Marching with the Alexandria Democratic Committee and former
Mayor Allison Silberberg at the Ballyshaners St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Announcing my re-election campaign to
the Arlington County Democratic Committee's packed March meeting.

With Alexandria City Councilmember Del Pepper and Delegate Charniele Herring
at the "Tribute to City Service" event, honoring former Mayor Allison Silberberg
and former City Councilmembers, Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey. 

Officially filing to be on the ballot.

A selfie with the rest of the Alexandria delegation to Richmond
at the Arlington Senior Democrats' annual luncheon. 

With Ronal Butler, whom I recommended to be one of Alexandria Living Legends,
at his induction ceremony.

At the investiture of the Honorable Jason Rucker,
he newest judge for the Arlington/Falls Church General District Court.
Each local delegation chooses the judges to serve their community.
It's one of my most important responsibilities.

People celebrating Fay Slotnick at the Torpedo Factory Memorial. I was proud to be there to honor her in Alexandria, as I had previously from the floor of the House of Delegates

At the Senior Services of Alexandria Gala with City Councilmember Amy Jackson. 

Past Presidents of North Old Town Independence Citizens’ Association.
I’m proud to support and be a member of my neighborhood civic organization.

Speaking at “Money and Politics and People Power” at Minnie Howard School.

Talking about my bills that would affect the legal profession at the Arlington Bar Association’s “Whiskey and Wisdom” event. Also pictured: Senator Barbara Favola

Dancing with my 95-years-young constituent, Resa O'Flaherty
at the Annual Gala of the Senior Services of Alexandria

Discussing paid family medical leave and successful re-entry for people returning from incarceration with Delaware Republican State Representative Ruth Briggs King at the annual conference of the Society for Human Resources Management, which is located in the 45th District.

Anyone who reads all of this very long newsletter deserves special commendation.
Let me know if you have. I always welcome your emails and comments.

Upcoming Events

Please Join Me!
(I personally participate in the events in red)
Saturday, March 23

4:00 - 6:00 pm
Dining for Delegates - Hala Ayala

Sunday, March 24
2:00-4:00 pm
Mark's Monthly Meetup

Los Tios
2615 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria

Monday, March 25
6:00-8:00 pm
Alexandria Commission for Women's Salute to Women
The Lyceum, 201 S Washington St., Alexandria
Monday, April 1
7:30 pm
General Assembly Report to the Alexandria Democratic Committee
George Washington Middle School
1005 Mt Vernon Ave, Arlington

It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District