Time and again, Republican Glen Sturtevant is telling Chesterfield County voters whom to blame for doubling their car registration fees.
Democrat Dan Gecker "voted to double vehicle registration fees, costing county residents $6 million annually in additional fees," Sturtevant says in at least three campaign mailers in the state Senate’s 10th District.
Sturtevant, a Richmond School Board member, and Gecker, a Chesterfield supervisor, are squaring off in a key race that could determine which political party controls the state Senate, which now has a 21-19 GOP majority. They are seeking to replace longtime Republican incumbent John Watkins, who is not seeking re-election.
A Sturtevant TV ad features a bike racer pedaling hard while the narrator says Gecker is in "a race to raise your taxes." Among the ensuing charges is that Gecker "voted" to "double vehicle registration fees, costing us $6 million in one year."
We investigated whether Gecker really did vote to double the fee.
Matt Brown, campaign manager for Sturtevant, told us the claim is based on Gecker’s actions last year, when the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors was considering the county’s 2014-15 capital improvement plan and its budget.
Among the proposals was to increase the county’s $20 car registration fee to $40, to raise $7.5 million for local transportation needs that the state would match.
The proposal was controversial and, at Gecker’s request during a supervisors meeting April 23, 2014, it was pulled from the capital improvement plan and voted on separately. The $20 increase passed, 3-2, with Gecker voting against it.
A tape of the meeting shows Gecker offered no explanation at the time of his vote. But about 10 minutes later, he said it should be a higher priority for the county to dedicate long-term revenues for clean-water programs mandated by the federal government than to raise fees for transportation.
Gecker did not push for the clean water funding, however, saying he realized his view was in the minority.
Given Gecker’s clear vote against the fee increase, what evidence does Sturtevant offer that his opponent actually voted for it?
Brown, in an email, replied that Gecker later that same April day voted for the entire capital improvement plan — which funds long-term construction projects — and then for the county’s operating budget. The two are connected, because revenues from the car registration fee flow into the county’s operating budget and then are allocated to the capital improvement plan. Brown said this counts as two Gecker votes for the raised fee.
We should point out that the 134-page capital improvement plan was filled with line items for projects totaling $848 million over five years. The 208-page operating budget funded $766 million of services, including education, public safety and health programs. Gecker told us that while he didn’t agree with every line item, he supported the overall benefits of the spending plans.
Brown cited a third vote, as well, that occurred Feb. 26, 2014 — almost two months before the budget was approved. Gecker concurred in the Chesterfield board’s unanimous vote to advertise all fee and tax rate increases being considered in the budget — including the car registration increase — and to set a public hearing on them March 26.
It should be noted that this is a required step in budget deliberations and that the mere advertisement of possible tax rate increases doesn’t obligate local board or council members ultimately to support them.
Sturtevant says Gecker "voted to double vehicle registration fees, costing county residents $6 million annually in additional fees."
The simple truth is just the opposite. When the $20 increase came up for a vote before the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors in April 2014, Gecker opposed it. Despite his opposition, it passed on a 3-2 vote.
Sturtevant, in trying to justify his claim, dismisses this obvious vote. His campaign instead argues that Gecker subsequently voted to pass massive spending plans that fund all of the county’s public services and public improvement projects. The new registration fees were a tiny part of these plans.
The Sturtevant camp also notes that Gecker, in 2014, voted to advertise that the board was considering the $20 increase. But that’s not tantamount to voting in support of the increase. Local governing boards are required to give notice for a public hearing whenever a fee or tax increase is on the table.
Keep your eye on the ball. Again, the only time the fee increase came up for a direct vote, Gecker opposed it.
We rate Sturtevant’s claim False.