Candidate Survey - 2013

THIS QUESTIONAIRE REQUESTS YOUR POSITIONS ON SALT’S TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES FOR 2013-14. Your responses will be shared with our members and others via mailings and our website ( ) as a helpful guide in their choice of candidates. Your answers will not be abbreviated or taken out of context. Please return your answers by August 10th by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you for your commitment to public service and for your willingness to share your opinions with SALT.

Candidate: Mark L. Keam

District: Virginia House of Delegates, 35th District

1.Inflation Indexing of TANF Benefits is a Fairness Issue: Currently, a family of three in Virginia receives a fifth of the federal poverty level and has seen only one TANF increase since 1985. At $269 a month average for a family Virginia ranks 35th in TANF payments. Indexing would prevent further erosion of recipients’ ability to meet basic needs of children in their own home or in relative care and can be funded from the federal TANF block grant. Shouldn’t Virginia take steps to alleviate poverty and to protect families. Strong families are as important to Virginia’s future as schools and roads. What steps would you support to ensure a meaningful level of time-limited assistance to Virginia’s needy families? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, Virginia should do all we can to alleviate poverty and to protect families.  I am open to any and all proposals for providing temporary relief to Virginia’s needy families, such as increasing the amount of TANF benefits, indexing it to inflation, or reforming the eligibility criteria to be more compassionate to the needy.

2. Tax & Budget: All Should Pay Their Fair Share. We know from local research across Virginia that the recent State budget cuts have cut into real, quality of life spending by local governments: libraries are closed, police have lost staff positions, teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes increase for public school students. At the same time, too many (two-thirds) large corporations operating in our State get by with paying very little in corporate income tax due to tax breaks, subsidies, and clever work by their tax lawyers. How will you make sure that individuals and corporations at the upper end of our income scale pay their fair share so that we can avoid painful service cuts in the future?

ANSWER: I agree that everyone who earns an income in Virginia should pay their fair share of taxes to fund the Commonwealth’s public services.  I also believe that individuals and corporations should be treated with parity in our tax laws so that corporations do not have unnecessary and unfair advantages that are not available to individual tax payers.  As a member of the Virginia General Assembly’s Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate Tax Preferences, I am working with my bipartisan and bicameral colleagues to review all the credits, deductions, exemptions, holidays and other preferences currently in the Virginia tax laws to determine which ones are legitimate and appropriate and meeting the policy needs of the Commonwealth, and which ones have outlived their purposes or are depleting revenues that should be received by Virginia.
3. Bring about effective change in the criminal justice system: Those who remain in contact with loved ones on the outside are less likely, studies show, to return to a life of crime after serving their time. So why does Virginia make it so hard for inmates to phone their families? SALT believes that charges should be “just and reasonable”. A small reform, perhaps, but lower rates might help prisoners go straight. What will you do to reform the justice system so communities are safer, victims are respected, and offenders are transformed?

ANSWER: Prisoner reentry is an issue that I am passionate about and have spent many years working on reforms.  A decade ago, I served as the minority staff director of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Corrections and Rehabilitations Subcommittee which spent two years studying the conditions of our prisons and jails, and provided recommendations on ways to make the system work better so that those who reenter society after serving their time can have the best chance to succeed and not fall back into a pattern of crimes.  During my time in the Virginia General Assembly, I served on the Governor’s Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Re-Entry Council’s Community and Interagency Leadership Team, which reviewed and proposed numerous recommendations to reform the state’s reentry process.  While many of the proposals made by SALT and other social justice organizations were not adopted, I believe this council nevertheless served an important role in raising the public awareness of the needs of prisoners, and we have made many modest improvements in the reentry process.  We have much more to do, including reforming the prison phones program so that the financial burdens of administering the program do not fall on the families of the prisoners.

4. Support of Operation Backpack for TANF Families-- This allowance would permit children living in poverty to acquire the needed school supplies and clothing essential for returning to school & equipping children to learn. Would you support to give children in deepest poverty an even start?

ANSWER: Yes, I support Operation Backpack for TANF families and other programs that address the needs of our most vulnerable children who suffer from poverty, hunger and lack of adequate healthcare and education.

5. Rescind the Federal Lifetime TANF Ban for Ex-Drug Offenders: Lifting the ban eliminates for ex-offenders (whose offense was solely drug possession) the disqualification from receipt of TANF federal transitional assistance needed to care for family members, increases the chances of gainful employment of ex-offenders. To us lifting the ban is a matter of fairness, as it serves to provide basic Re-entry program services that reduce recidivism and save states money. This ban penalizes children of drug felons. Do we want to be a society that requires children to pay for the misdeed(s) of their parents? Do you support extending the eligibility of ex-offenders for food stamps to TANF benefits as well? Please explain

ANSWER: Yes, I support extending the eligibility of ex-offenders for food stamps to TANF benefits as well, and I have cosponsored legislation to reform the TANF rules in Virginia to provide more opportunities for these families to move out from a cycle of poverty.

6. Refundable Virginia State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The EITC higher income is pro-work, pro-business because it results in greater productivity and job satisfaction and less worker turnover. It is pro-family as well. SALT supports a Virginia Refundable EITC to enable hard working families to escape poverty. Approximately 570,000 Virginians live below the poverty level. No one working 40 hours a week should be poor. Do you support a refundable State earned income tax credit (EITC) based on 20% of the federal EITC for Virginia low income workers and their families? Yes/No. Please explain

ANSWER: Yes, I support a Virginia Refundable EITC for working families to enjoy a small but important benefit from their hard work.

7. Transportation: The problem SALT sees with the taxes being put in place for funding our transportation needs is that they are regressive, causing low-income Virginians to pay a greater share of their income towards funding transportation. We find it bizarre to burden those with minimum resources for the purpose of making investments in Virginia’s roads. To mitigate the harm, there needs to be steps taken to assuage the pain. SALT recommends a refundable earned income credit or a targeted rebate program. Do you agree with and would you support that approach?

ANSWER: Yes, I would support an innovative tax program that would attempt to make whole those who are below a certain level of income who may end up paying a higher portion of their earnings on transportation taxes than those who are able to do so.

8. Housing Trust Fund: Virginia has been identified as the 9th least affordable state in the nation according to the "2013 Out of Reach" report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This standing is based on actual wages and rents in the Commonwealth. Last year, the General Assembly codified a state housing trust fund, joining 45 other states with similar funds, providing one time funding of $8M from the National Mortgage Settlement funds. Given the housing cost burdens faced by a substantial number of households throughout the state, would you support an ongoing source of revenue for the state housing trust fund? This fund would be used to address the significant shortage of safe, decent affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for thousands of low and moderate income families throughout the Commonwealth."

ANSWER: Yes, I would support an ongoing source of revenues for a program that would provide affordable housing for qualified Virginians.

9. Medicaid Expansion Health Insurance: Expansion for 400,000 low income, uninsured Virginians with federal funding to pay for 100% of the cost for the first 3 years. Expanding Medicaid for a healthy Virginia is the right choice. Do you agree? Explain.

ANSWER: Yes, I supported the creation of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission in the 2013 budget, which would provide an opportunity for Virginia to participate in the federal expansion of Medicaid.

YOUR ISSUES: What are some issues you feel strongly about that you would like to share with your SALT constituents?

As I have over the past four years that I have been in office, I will continue to work on taking care of the fundamental responsibilities of the government, such as a strong public education system, transportation and other infrastructure, clean environment and sustainable communities, and an economic base that will ensure good-paying jobs.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!