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Focus on Fairfax Newsletter of Delegate David Bulova
February 2009

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here in the General Assembly we take this day very seriously – with the 4th and 7th floors even having a competition for the most decorations. It is a nice diversion from an otherwise very busy week.

Next year, February 14th will also be Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day in Virginia thanks to the efforts of Lisa Greenfield and City Councilman Jeff Greenfield. Jeff and Lisa are members of an organization called Tender Hearts, which provides support to the families of babies born with a congenital heart defect. Based on their advocacy, I introduced HJR 684 to designate February 7th through 14th as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, culminating on February 14th as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day.

Over 1,200 Virginia babies are born each year with a congenital heart defect. In fact, it is the number one cause of birth related infant deaths in the United States. Much can, and is, being done to reduce these figures. However, the ability to make sure that a heart defect doesn’t turn into tragedy starts with awareness.

Two issues worth a mention this week include a bill to change the education funding formula and an attempt to balance the budget using the Water Quality Improvement Fund.

Education Funding – In these tight fiscal times, I am naturally suspicious of anything that sounds like a formula change. This is particularly true when dealing with education, since most proposed changes result in less money for Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax, not more. However, HB 2063 proposed by Delegate Phil Hamilton of Newport News intrigued me. He proposed to save money by eliminating the requirement for school systems to conduct a triennial census of all children in the locality – whether or not they go to a public school. This figure is currently used to distribute education funding. The question then turned to what would be used in its place. The answer is that funding would be distributed based on average daily student membership. As it turns out, there are winners and losers to changing the formula. But, for a change, Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax are winners – by an estimated $3.9 million if the bill were implemented today. This became a no-brainer. I voted yes, as did a majority of the House. The measure now goes over to the Senate.

The Budget and the Water Quality Improvement Fund – All told, there were very few surprises this Thursday as we took up amendments to the biennial budget to address a $3 billion revenue shortfall. With a few notable exceptions, key proposals by the Governor were largely left intact. One proposal that was rejected was to raise the cigarette tax from 30¢ per pack to 60¢ per pack in order to generate $150 million for Medicaid and other health related services. Even at 60¢, Virginia’s tax would be half of the national average. By rejecting the increase, the Appropriations Committee had to find a way to fill the gap left in the budget. What they chose to do is raid the Water Quality Improvement Fund to the tune of $149 million.

The Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) was established several years ago as a separate, non-reverting fund to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities – including several here in Fairfax. These upgrades are needed to reduce water pollution and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. As I have stated in the past, I have a problem in general with diverting revenue from funds set aside for special purposes. It is very similar to why there is a need for a constitutional amendment to protect the Transportation Trust Fund. However, the issue goes much deeper because most of the money in the WQIF is already committed to projects that are under contract, under construction, and in many cases, nearing completion.

While the argument was made that this would be backfilled by expected economic stimulus package money, I believe that it is bad public policy to essentially count the same money twice. As a result, I voted against this measure.

Even though the budget has passed the House, it is only the beginning of a long process. This year, the process is complicated by the eroding economy, which is expected to result in the need for even steeper cuts, and uncertainty about the impacts of the stimulus package.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me here in Richmond if you have any questions or would like information on a specific bill or budget item. Have a wonderful weekend!


David Bulova

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