Politics and Policy Along the Pike – Alfonso’s Notes from Richmond
As I end my fourth full day as a Member of the House of Delegates representing the 49th District I’d like to discuss what we can expect over the coming 2012 Session.
With a 68 to 32 Republican majority it will be very difficult to stop much of the most egregious legislation from passing the House. With that in mind, we are working very closely with the Senate Democrats to effectively modify and (possibly) halt some of those bills.
Social Agenda Legislation – With the significant Republican majority in the House I am concerned that we can expect to see a lot more social agenda legislation. For instance, several bills have already been introduced to further restrict a woman’s right to choose. Other bills would allow guns on college campuses and repeal Virginia’s “one gun a month” purchase limit. There are other bills to increase state law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement and force school systems to create lists of all ESL and undocumented students. There are also several bills geared towards making it harder for individuals to exercise their right to vote.
Virginia’s Biennial Budget – This is the year that Governor McDonnell presents and works to pass his biennial budget for Virginia. This issue will take up most of our time over the coming weeks and we can expect some contentiousness.
The Commonwealth’s General Fund revenues have still not recovered from the effects of the recent recession. Indeed, General Fund revenues for the current fiscal year are expected to be below revenues collected in fiscal year 2007-08. With close to a $1 billion shortfall, there are still questions as to whether or not Virginia will have enough revenue to meet its priority needs.
We will need to start paying back for the budget balancing strategies that were adopted over the past two years. According to the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, the two largest budget balancing strategies that will require funding in the upcoming biennium are the accelerated sales tax payments and the deferral of the $620 million of Virginia Retirement System (VRS) contributions. The Governor still needs to eliminate the accelerated collections by $190 million. The $620 million in VRS contribution deferrals needs to be repaid over a 10-year period, with interest. We can also expect additional funding issues around the Education Standards of Quality Rebenchmarking of costs incurred by school divisions and the impact from the expected significant reduction in Federal spending, including military spending, upon the Virginia economy.
Despite the shortfall, the Governor has proposed several hundred million dollars of new initiatives to be funded with, among other things, cuts to Education and health care for the indigent, children and seniors. I believe that transportation funding is important, but I do not agree with the Governor’s plan to make a small investment in transportation by taking money away from the General Fund – which pays for education, social services, and first responders.
I am especially concerned about the Governor’s cutting Free Health Clinic support in the Commonwealth by half over the biennial budget. For example, this will have a significant negative impact on the Arlington Free Clinic in the 49th District.
In a future update, I will get into more detail about my eight proposed amendments to the Governor’s Biennial Budget.
Transportation – Recently, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation stated that, without changes, maintenance costs alone will cause Virginia to run out of state money to build new roads in about five years. We can expect several proposals to address this issue, including:
Proposed new tolls on Interstate 95,
- Devolution – shifting responsibility for local roads to counties,
- issuing debt,
- increasing the motor fuels tax rate or providing other means of generating new revenue,
- re-prioritizing state spending to provide more funds for transportation.
Uranium Mining – There is a very active movement taking place to begin mining for uranium in certain parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Several studies have been funded by the businesses behind the uranium effort. An additional study was conducted under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences – which reviewed the potential impacts on the environment, public health and safety, the regulatory framework, technical options, and best practices. In each case, concerns were raised about the potential environmental and public health harm that could be caused by this effort. Concerns were also raised about Virginia’s ability to address the remediation needs of the mining sites around the State.
I continue to believe that mining for uranium in Virginia is a bad idea. The U.S. EPA has stated that waste from uranium must be kept from human contact for one thousand (1,000) years. The mining projects will create several million tons of uranium waste that will have to be controlled with State resources. Since the sites are within regular flood zones there is the potential to contaminate the groundwater for large segments of Virginia. At best, these projects will only create approximately 400 jobs.
Simply put – I do not believe that we should create a toxic, carcinogenic legacy for a millennium of future Virginians in order to realize a short term (approximately 25 years) economic benefit.
The Virginia Retirement System (VRS) – As a result of the recent downturn in the economy, the funding levels for the retirement plans are not strong. With this in mind, we can expect several Republican proposals to require state employees and teachers to contribute an additional percentage of salary for their retirement under VRS. This would make the total state employee contribution, if enacted, increase beyond the current five percent. We can also expect legislation to move from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan under VRS (or some hybrid). I believe we should keep our current defined benefit system under VRS for our teachers and other state employees.
Thanks for reading! As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me at your convenience with policy ideas and constituent requests. I look forward to hearing from you.
In my next Notes from Richmond I will give you details about the twelve bills and eight Budget Amendments I’ve introduced.
All my best to you and yours!