This past Wednesday the General Assembly finally passed a budget after intense negotiations between the House and the Senate. There is no doubt in my mind that the budget we ended up with is superior to where we started. Overall funding was increased for K-12 education and small business assistance. An additional $43 million was put in the Water Quality Improvement Fund to help local governments upgrade wastewater treatment facilities. We put additional money into the Rainy Day Fund. The Virginia Housing Trust Fund received $7 million to target homelessness prevention efforts. And, over $13 million was added for Medicaid waivers to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Despite these gains, a number of issues critical to Northern Virginia remained unaddressed.
Education Cost to Compete Funding: A major point of contention was the Governor's proposal to cut $65 million in Northern Virginia's Cost to Compete (COC) funding that goes to educational support personnel. COC recognizes the fact that the cost of living in Northern Virginia is between 35% and 66% higher than other regions. This cut comes at a time when Northern Virginia is projected to gain 18,000 school children in the next two years! While the final budget restored $40 million, it still represents a significant cut and sets a new benchmark that will affect the region for decades to come.
Rail to Dulles Funding: Despite a bi-partisan effort from the Northern Virginia Delegation, including a great floor speech by Delegate Tom Rust from Herndon, the budget does not include $300 million in additional funding for rail to Dulles Airport that was proposed in the Senate's version of the budget. While most other projects in Virginia are supported by state funding, this project is being built on the backs of those who use the Dulles Toll Road. As a result, tolls are expected to increase from $2.25 to $4.50 in two years, with more increases to come. Our region pays 45% of the income tax, 34% of the sales tax, and 25% of the gas tax. And yet, we are being socked with exorbitant tolls to fund one of Virginia's most important transportation projects in decades. It is not unreasonable to expect our state to help defray more of the cost of this project. This funding is worth fighting for.
Local Fines and Fees to the State Literary Fund: Traditionally, fines imposed by a local government to enforce a local ordinance go back to that locality. However, this budget includes a provision to divert some of those funds to the Literary Fund. While the Literary Fund is a worthy cause, this sets a bad precedent of allowing the state to divert local funds in the future. For example, the change will result in a diversion of $94,911 that would otherwise have stayed in the City of Fairfax.
Other Issues: In addition to the above, the budget eliminates state support for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Centers and diverts $10 million each year to private schools through a new tax credit. I was also sorry to see $7 million removed from the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, which is used to strengthen partnerships between our research universities and business and industry - something that I think it critical for the long-term economic growth of Northern Virginia.
These issues were serious enough for me to ultimately cast a "no" vote on the budget. I am, however, hopeful that some of them can be address when we go back in May to consider proposed amendments by the Governor. Please don't hesitate to let me know if you have a question about a particular program or budget item!
HOA Bill Vetoed!
One of my bills that unanimously passed the General Assembly, HB423, would require the Common Interest Community Board to establish best practices and a model declaration that could be used as a gold standard for the creation of homeowner association declarations. Sound boring? Today, I don't believe that you can move into a new development in our area without being part of an HOA and being subject to the declarations that come with HOA membership. HOAs don't just regulate paint color, additions, sheds, landscaping, parking, decks, fences, placement of flags, and signage - they also have the power to assess fees, to impose fines, and to place liens on your property.
All of these things are governed, ultimately, by HOA declarations. And when you purchase a new home, the declaration is a take it or leave it proposition. Declarations are typically put in place long before any homeowner ever moves in - and while there are some guidelines in the Code of Virginia, as anyone who has ever served on an HOA board can attest, once a declaration is in place it is exceedingly difficult to change it.
The bottom line is that it is important to get these declarations right from the start - and that is what my bill attempted to help accomplish.
In his veto message, the Governor said that declarations are specific to each community. I agree and this bill doesn't change that. However, I believe it was a reasonable, modest attempt at bringing consistency and transparency to probably the one thing that has more control over the daily lives of Northern Virginians than almost anything we do down in Richmond. While I wasn't able to override the veto, I am grateful to the six Republicans (mostly from suburban areas) who stuck with me!
Next Step - Constitutional Amendment
While the work of the 2012 General Assembly is almost done, you will get the final say at the ballot box in November on a proposed amendment (HJ3) to put eminent domain restrictions into the Constitution of Virginia. I supported the amendment - although I did not support companion legislation to create new definitions for takings that I thought were premature and not adequately vetted. You can find the link to the amendment language here. Let me know if you have any questions.
CASA 10K Race
After two months in Richmond, I'm admittedly not in the best of shape - but that didn't keep me from signing up to sponsor the CASA 10K race this upcoming Saturday, April 28th. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a great organization that provides thousands of volunteer hours each year to advocate for abused and neglected children right here in Fairfax.
Please join my team! The first 10 people to respond will run with me for free to support this great cause. For details about the race, click here.
Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates.