Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This past Tuesday marked the official half way point of the session known as "cross-over." Cross-over is when the House and Senate must complete work on their respective legislation. The day before cross-over is usually the busiest of the session. This year was no exception as we voted on over 175 bills during a nine hour period. Anything that survives then heads over to the other body for consideration.
The exception to cross-over is the budget. The two-year budget is actually one, very big bill. The Governor submits the initial bill, and then the Appropriations Committee goes to work. As noted previously, I have some serious concerns with the budget as introduced - including a proposal to eliminate Northern Virginia's "cost-to-compete" supplement for support personnel in our schools. This Sunday afternoon the Appropriations Committee will release their proposed amendments, which will set the stage for debate that will culminate with a vote next Thursday. Stay tuned!
While the debate over whether to increase transportation funding continues, this week saw some significant progress on how to at least more fairly distribute existing sources of funding. First, the House passed a measure to change the composition of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), which is the body responsible for making transportation funding decisions. Currently, the CTB's membership, with a few changes over the years, is based on 1920s congressional districts! As a result, 65% of the state's population has only 33% of the representation on the CTB. House Bill 864 would change the composition of the CTB to reflect current congressional district boundaries, and would change as population continues to shift. The measure, which was hotly debated on the House floor, passed 51Y-47N and now goes over to the Senate. I was pleased to be a co-patron of this legislation.
Last Tuesday we also passed HB477, which would require the CTB to make decisions about transportation maintenance funding distribution in a way that results in the least amount of disparity among Virginia's highway construction districts and to justify any deviations from established asset management standards. This is a bill that Delegate Dave Albo and I have worked on together for a number of years. This year I am serving as the chief co-patron of the legislation. The bill passed out of the House 73Y-27N, although it has historically run in to trouble over in the Senate. Hopefully this year will be different.
As mentioned above, the General Assembly continues to debate how to increase funding for transportation - with competing bills in the House and the Senate. The Governor's bill (HB1428) proposes to increase the amount of the end of the year surplus going to transportation (which has its pros and cons) and to increase the amount of the sales tax that goes to transportation versus the general fund. This last proposal concerns me greatly, since the general fund supports education, public safety, and other core services that are already stretched thin. In addition, it is important to consider that most of the general fund comes from taxes on Virginians, while 20% of the people who use our roads are from out of state. It doesn't make sense to me that we should let out-of-state drivers off the hook. The Senate version (SB639) removes the drain on the general fund and instead indexes the gas tax to keep up with inflation over time. The current gas tax was set at 0.175¢ in 1986. While this won't result in new money for construction, it will keep Virginia from falling even further behind on its maintenance responsibilities. It is important to note that neither proposal generates sufficient revenue to come close to our transportation needs - estimated by the Virginia Department of Transportation to be over $1 billion in new funding a year.
A Spotlight on Tax Credits
Tax credits and tax preferences are often used by Virginia and other governments to reward certain behaviors or investments that result in a public good. According to a recent study commissioned by the General Assembly, Virginia tax preferences drained approximately $2.9 billion from state coffers in 2008. However, more often than not, tax credits simply continue on in perpetuity without anyone questioning whether they are effective in achieving their stated purpose or whether they are doing so in an efficient manner. This year, the House has passed a bill (HB246) that requires any new tax credit, or renewed tax credit, to have an automatic sunset date. That way the General Assembly will need to decide whether the credit is something worth continuing. This is a great step in the right direction. Given that $2.9 billion would be more than enough to address our transportation shortfall, we should be giving these tax credits more scrutiny.
Finally, it is not too late to fill out my 2012 Constituent Survey. It is an honor to represent you in the House of Delegates. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or have thoughts about an issue facing our community.