November election looms over animated 1st Senate District debate

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From left to right: Candidates John Bloom (I), Thomas Holston (R), and Delegate Monty Mason (D) take the stage at the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area’s 1st Senate District Forum.

November’s election was brought to the forefront Thursday evening at the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area’s 1st Senate District Forum. Three candidates voiced their opinions over several wide and interconnected subjects such as taxes, Virginia’s projected budget shortfall, traffic congestion, flood controls, and the state minimum wage.

The forum, moderated by WHRO talk show radio host Barbara Hamm Lee, gave the Williamsburg audience an opportunity to hear the candidates’ visions for Virginia’s future and the challenges the Eastern Peninsula will face in the coming years.

Candidates John Bloom (I), Thomas Holston (R), and Del. Monty Mason (D-93rd) were initially asked about how they would fix the projected budget shortfall of $1.5 billion in the governor’s two-year $10.5 billion budget.

Holston stated that he plans to look at the business tax structure, and that the state needed to expand business to expand its tax base. Bloom said the state budget needed to be analyzed in order to expand business, and that the state tax rate needs to decrease

“I think we need corporate income tax down to zero,” he said. 

Del. Mason suggested that there were budgetary mechanisms to aid in closing the shortfall.

“The governor today recommended taking $329 million out of an $845 million rainy day fund,” he said. “Secondly, putting off the first year of the [state employee] pay raises which is about $125 million, and today the governor again proposed the expansion of healthcare.”

Candidates offered differing positions on transportation and how to fund various Commonwealth infrastructure projects. Holston addressed concerns about traffic congestion by proposing the construction of another tunnel in addition to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, but he said that it would have to be paid for with tolls or a raise in the gas tax.

Del. Mason touted his push for the Interstate 64 widening project, and said that there are “allocated directions” that dictate how much the state can fund certain projects. Bloom said that he would pay for new infrastructure with revenue bonds.

“When you got four lanes going into two [lanes], they designed a bottleneck into the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel,” he said. “It doesn’t take an engineer to figure that one out.” 

All three candidates grew passionate when they were asked about their desire maintain the minimum wage or to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Holston said that he would be in favor of gradually raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour, but would vote for legislation raising the minimum wage further if his constituents wanted.

“But let’s think about it, if we go to $15 an hour that’s double what we’re going now for minimum wage,” he said. “For one thing mom and pop’s aren’t going to be able to last out there.”

Bloom said that the minimum wage is the choice of the employer and to increase the minimum wage could destroy business.

“[At] 15 an hour, you’re going to destroy tourism in Virginia,” he said. 

Del. Mason said that he had previously worked to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and that he has voted against bills that bring the minimum wage up to $15 per hour without a year-over-year increase to ease the burden on small business.

“I don’t think we should jump straight to $15. I think we should stage the increase,” he said.