By Joe Beck
Larry Yates, 63, of Winchester, is running as an independent for the House of Delegates in the 29th District. He is a publisher and author of Social Justice Connections, which published two of his books in 2012, "The Scalawag Scholar's Notes on Virginia," and a novel, "Bloodroot Cantons." Yates was the organizing director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated death row survivors, from August 2010 to June 2012. His work included coordinating advocacy against state death penalty systems and organizing a national campaign for compensation for exonerated death row survivors. From May 2004 to June 2010, Yates was the Shenandoah Valley organizer for the Virginia Organizing Project. His job focused on campaigns for health care, opposition to payday lending and other issues. He was also coordinator of a statewide campaign against racial profiling and edited a statewide news magazine. He was chosen for membership in the Virginia Affordable Housing Hall of Fame in 2011.
The following questions were written by Joe Beck and the answers were provided by Larry Yates.
Q. Should teachers be paid more? If so, how much more and what, if any, role does the state have as a funding source?
A. Virginia's per capita income is about 10 percent higher than the national average, but our teacher pay is about 13 percent below the national average. In other words, we invest about 25 percent less in our teachers than the national average. We should seek to correct this.
Virginia has the bad habit of acting like we are Mississippi, even though we have income comparable to Alaska's -- and like Alaska, a lot of it is due to federal programs. By not investing today's income in our future through education, we are locking our economic future to the federal government. It would be wise policy to use today's prosperity in Virginia to ensure that we have an educated work force that can respond to whatever the future brings us. The state, as the main source of educational funding, should take the lead in this.
Q. What, if any, changes to state laws governing the acceptance and reporting of gifts to elected officials do you support?
A. I recently held a public forum on this issue. With the input of those present, including former Warren County Supervisor Ben Weddle, I concluded we limit gifts to a maximum $50 value per donor, and that this should include gifts to family members and direct business associates as well. All of these should be reported. As an independent delegate, I believe I will be able to play a useful role in such reforms.
Q. Should state income taxes for individuals and businesses be raised, lowered, or kept the same? What should the extra revenue be spent on if taxes are raised? What spending programs should be cut if they are lowered?
A. Virginia's current tax rate structure has not changed in more than 25 years. Under that structure, everyone with an adjusted gross income above $17,000 pays the same amount. In other words, people with poverty wages are paying the same rate as the wealthiest.
To simply raise or lower everyone's taxes, using the current rate structure, would not be fair. Virginia's taxes must be brought up to date. This could be done in a revenue neutral way.
Whether or not taxes are raised, we need to re-focus so that the needs of very poor people and people with severe disabilities get more effective attention. Among areas where we should look at cuts are prisons, drug enforcement, and economic development benefits that are not tied to jobs.
Q. Do you support or oppose Virginia's ban on same sex marriage?
I oppose the ban. Once, marriage was an institution in which the wife, often as a child, was given by the father to the husband, for the benefit of the tribe or clan, and for the purposes of procreation.
Today in the United States, one adult marries another for love in a freely made choice. Early in this century, marriages among people of different religions became common. In 1965, it was determined that race should not be a factor in marriage. Soon Virginia will determine that gender should not be a factor either. Government has no place limiting the voluntary intimate relations of two adults.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org