Legislative Update October 22, 2013
October 25, 2013

As we approach fall, our Senate office is focused on legislation and preparation for the upcoming Senate session and we continue our constituent service work.  In recent weeks, that has included traveling the district to speak to civic groups, local elected officials, educators, public safety representatives, environmental groups, businesses and others who are interested in policy issues before the Senate.  It is an invaluable way to communicate and to learn.  I also serve on a number of governing bodies that continued their work through the summer and fall, including the Senate Finance Committee, the Courts of Justice Committee, the General Laws and Technology Committee, the Rules Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Land Conservation Foundation.  


I chair the Senate Finance Subcommittee on General Government and Technology which oversees funding for all state employees, courts and technology.  We met last week to hear testimony on a number of important funding concerns that we hope to address in the next budget.  Other committees on which I serve that met this month include the Finance Subcommittee on Public Safety, Subcommittee on Health and Human Resources, Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate Tax Preferences and the Commemorative Commission to Honor the Contributions of the Women of Virginia.


I have spent countless hours with my colleagues during these discussions, considering budget issues and legislative questions carried over from the 2013 session.  Our deliberations are also in preparation for the next two-year budget which will be introduced at the end of this year.  Not surprisingly, our concerns have focused on what federal action will affect Virginia, including the sequester, healthcare and the federal shutdown.  In my opinion, Congress' action on the shutdown was appalling.  It is a sharp contrast to how Virginia does business and a reminder that we should be very proud of the much more collaborative, bi-partisan spirit of Virginia's legislature that has distinguished Virginia as the best managed state, best state to do business and best place to raise a child.  So often, the narrative about government policy is all gloom and doom.  However, that is not the case in Virginia and our recent record of success should be a source of pride.


The Governor and the Secretary of Finance recently provided briefings to our committees, highlighting some of those successes.  It is an impressive record.  Virginia ended fiscal year 2013 with a budget surplus of $585 million, part of a cumulative four-year surplus of almost $2 billion.  While other states are functionally bankrupt and operate in the red, Virginia remains the top performing state.  It is the result of conservative revenue projections and realistic budgeting.  Virginia's Constitution and our budget bill allocate the additional revenue to areas currently in need. Those include the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund which will receive $31.5 million and help meet our obligations under the Watershed Improvement Plan to accelerate efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  Other portions of the surplus are required to repay $21.7 million to the Transportation Trust Fund and to cover $34.5 million in Virginia's obligations resulting from recent natural disasters.


In other good news, Virginia added 172,600 net new jobs over the last 30 months, 90% in the private sector.  Unemployment dropped from 7.4% in February of 2010 to 5.5% this fall, making it the lowest rate in the Southeast.  Also, despite budget cuts, Virginia still added $400 million in funding for higher education.  That produced the lowest average yearly tuition increase in a decade and added 14,000 new in-state student slots at our schools. Virginia increased teacher pay by 2% and focused on programs for those who are struggling, including initiatives that helped reduce Virginia's homeless population by 16%.  We have also recently returned $45 million to localities, helped agricultural and forestry industries grow through new funding programs, added more funding to the Port of Virginia to prepare for the 2015 widening of the Panama Canal and funded new infrastructure at Wallops Island to make Virginia's Spaceport a national leader.


Currently, indecision and lack of leadership coming from Washington pose the greatest threats to Virginia.  Much is unknown given the federal government's inability to pass a budget and address the nation's exploding debt.  The federal Affordable Health Care Act also has a significant impact. Virginia's current budget requires sweeping reform of the Medicaid system prior to any expansion. To put things in perspective, however, our state spending on Medicaid has increased by 1600% in the last three decades and the new expansion will pose even greater challenges.  All of this means that those of us in state legislatures have to work much harder to be prepared. 


As always, I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope that you will contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns.  You may contact the Winchester office at 540-662-4551, the Warrenton office at 540-341-8808 or send an email to district27@senate.virginia.gov.