A Central Virginia Newsletter from the General Assembly
This week featured the second national holiday to fall during the General Assembly session, Washington's Birthday. Capitol Square features two prominent statues of our nation's first president, as well as a recently renovated twelve-story state office building named after him. While Virginia's Capitol commemorates all of the presidents who hailed from our commonwealth, George Washington's presence looms largest.
Virginia's Capitol and Capitol Square are replete with statues, monuments and paintings of great historical and artistic significance. Every day, lawmakers conduct debate on contemporary issues great and small surrounded by works that serve as a reminder of Virginia's rich and significant history.
Crossover, often referred to as the "halfway point" of the General Assembly session, came this week. At this point, both houses have completed work on all legislation filed by its respective members. From this point forward, members of the House of Delegates will be reviewing bills filed by senators, while members of the Senate will be considering measures sponsored by delegates.
If you are an early riser, please tune in to hear me on the Jimmy Barrett show on WRVA AM 1140 Monday, February 22 at 6:35AM. I will be discussing a number of the 10th Amendment/Federalism legislation passed by the House thus far, the budget, and other matters of importance during this 2010 session.
A majority of the bills I introduced are now under consideration in the Senate. Just as I had to appear before my fellow delegates over the last five weeks to explain my proposals, I now have to appear before committees comprised of senators to repeat the process. This very deliberate approach is intended to ensure that when new laws are enacted, they have received a full vetting and only the most necessary measures may become law.
In the remaining weeks of the session, the Senate will be considering my bill (HB 708) to call for home care and home health care organizations to develop policies regarding a drug free workplace through testing and subsequent reporting to agencies responsible for licensure. HB 708 passed the House of Delegates with unanimous support. I brought this policy forward to ensure that those who are present in the most intimate of settings caring for the most vulnerable of people are doing the right thing. I see this legislation as protecting consumers that contract with home care and home health professionals. Home support services provide an opportunity for elderly, frail or ailing people to stay in their home and perhaps maintain a more independent lifestyle than a group home or nursing home might offer.
Another measure of importance to many of my constituents and citizens across the Commonwealth passed the House this week. I joined Delegate Clay Athey (R-Front Royal) and other fellow legislators in support of House Joint Resolution 125. HJR 125 passed the House of Delegates on Monday by a vote of 76-20. Last year I was the first to introduce a 10th Amendment resolution with HR61 and again this year with HR5. The Athey/Peace Resolution will require the approval of the Senate.
HJR 125 affirms those founding principles of Federalism guaranteed under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The resolution sets forth the principle that the Commonwealth of Virginia is sovereign and has authority to claim powers not specified or granted to the federal government. Over the past few years, states around the country have passed resolutions claiming sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment and resolving to serve notice and demand to the federal government to cease and desist mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. Virginia, upon passage of this legislation, joins the movement that so clearly demonstrates the imbalance and growing concern that the federal government is increasing its dominance over their state policy affairs.
In my Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch Commentary of February 22, 2009, I wrote: "Printz v. United States held that the federal system limits the ability of the federal government to use state governments as an instrumentality of the national government. But this traditional notion of Federalism has devolved into 'cooperative federalism,' where Congress creates new state programs by affixing certain conditions to the receipt of those funds... and the ultimate danger is the erosion of the principles of Federalism whereby Virginia becomes, effectively, a ward of the federal super state."
In keeping with 10th Amendment principles, additional legislation supporting an individual's right and power to participate in the health care system recently passed. House Bill 722, which I introduced and was incorporated into House Bill 10. This "Health Care Freedom Act" passed the House by a vote of 72-26 and is intended to serve notice to the federal government that Virginians have great concerns about the mandating health insurance against their will. It provides that Virginia will not impose penalty of fines and possibly jail time for not complying.
Governor McDonnell made news this week when he released information on his proposed ideas to bring Virginia's budget into balance. Our new Governor's input is important to the process of completing a budget. Although he had already shared his recommendations on possible spending reductions to address the challenges brought on by declining revenues, the public release of his ideas generated a lot of coverage from the media.
An important point made by the Governor regarding the process of approving a biennial budget was largely absent from much of the reporting. As he noted, Virginia is taking a very different approach in dealing with its budgetary challenges than the federal government.
Discussions in Richmond stand in stark contrast to the budgetary proposals being considered in Washington. The budget being discussed in our nation's capitol features increased spending, higher deficits, and even tax increases. Here in Richmond, we're considering plans to complete a budget that includes spending reductions, no deficits (Virginia's budget must be balanced), and no tax hikes.
Just as families across Virginia have to make difficult decisions - often curtailing spending - during difficult economic times, Virginia's government is doing the same. The goal is to emerge from the recession more quickly, generating more private-sector jobs by practicing government spending restraint. It makes the process of a constructing a budget more challenging in the short run, but also makes our economic outlook brighter in the long run.
To read the January Revenue Letter from Richard D. Brown, Secretary of Finance
SCHOOLS AND THE BUDGET
As you undoubtedly recognize, delivering a balanced budget this year will be difficult and yet it is our charge to keep. The former Governor exponentially added to our difficulties by presenting a draft budget with latent defects, notably an income tax increase which is unpalatable to most. The resulting effect is a plan laid at the doorstep of the incoming assembly with a severely imbalanced budget.
Governor McDonnell and our own legislative leadership already indicated that new tax proposals are a nonstarter while we recover from the Great Recession. Voters feel the same way. Unfortunately, by focusing on on-going reductions and leaving Car Tax relief as is, the legislature will need to find another $1.9 B in on-going spending reductions and right sizing government in addition to the $1.5 B that the Kaine budget proposes.
Of the $6.3 B of net reductions that have been made to the current FY 2009-10 budget since it was first introduced, fully 70% ($4.9 B) were one-time actions over the biennium. Most the "easy" fixes have been used, and closing the shortfall in the upcoming 2011-12 biennium will have to be accomplished in large part through the use of more on-going cuts which will likely have an impact on certain government functions including public education.
Over the last 10 years, the General Assembly has increased the Commonwealth's funding for public education by almost 60% (58.9) -- from $3.7 billion in FY 2000 up to $5.9 billion in FY 2010 (as adopted during the 2009 session). Furthermore, if one includes the $365.2 million federal stimulus funding budgeted in the 2009 session for FY 2010, the total funding for FY 2010 increased by almost 70% (68.7) over FY 2000.
Over the last 10 years, student membership only increased by 7.2% . So, while funding increased by 60%-70%, the number of students increased by less than 10%. Clearly, the Commonwealth has invested significantly more than population growth and more than inflation when times were good. Remember, too, that prior to last year, public education was held harmless while other state agencies and services were reduced during several rounds of budget cuts .
While Governor Kaine's FY 2010 introduced budget (HB 29 for the current fiscal year that ends on June 20, 2010) for public education does include a decrease to last year's adopted budget, that proposed funding is still 51.9% higher than the FY 2000 funding.
For the next two-year budget (HB 30) that begins July 1, 2010 and ends June 30, 2012, the state's estimates indicate deeper declines in state revenues because of the lingering effects of the worst economic recession in over 70 years or since the Great Depression. That means that education simply can no longer be held harmless to balance the state budget without a job-killing tax increase.
Given that additional cuts to state spending were included in Governor Kaine's two-year budget AND even with the proposed reductions, it's worth noting that:
For FY 2011, K-12 spending of $5.7 billion is 53.4% higher than the FY 2000 level - while student membership is estimated to only increase by 8.1%.
For FY 2012, K-12 spending of $5.8 billion is 55.4% higher than the FY 2000 level - while student membership is estimated to increase by 9.0%.
However, in order to avoid tax increases to the already struggling taxpayers and working families of Virginia, the new biennial budget spending (to which amendments offered by the House and Senate on Sunday, February 21) will have to be reduced further and state agencies will realize additional decreases. However, keep in mind that because of the federal stimulus requirement for a 'maintenance of effort', the public education budget will be funded at least to the FY 2006 level in FY2011. In many jurisdictions in my district those levels approach 2008 levels. I welcome your input on the budget generally and this matter in particular.
Friendly faces from home continued to visit us here in Richmond this week. We were delighted to see our friends from Hanover ARC, Lucy Cantrell, Jennifer Godfrey, Sharon, Linda, Mike and many more. Also visiting this week: Jeff and Tory Purdy of Henrico, David Swynford of Quinton, Alice Zimak, Nan Pilard, Mish Vaden Clay, Frank Hughes all with the Wiliamsburg Realtors Association, Dave Croson, Joanne Payne of the Virginia Land Title Association, Willie and Eddie Good of Richmond, Jerry Benson of Lanexa, Fred and Nancy Ridgeway, Jane Ladd and Wayne Hayden of Quinton, John and Dorothy Stump of New Kent, Lois Smith of Partlow and Betty-Anne Teter of Virginia Economic Developers Association.
In the week ahead, the House and Senate are scheduled to approve their respective versions of Virginia's budget. In next week's column, I'll have more details of the progress on the budget.
If you want to contact our office during the General Assembly session, please send me an email at Delcpeace@house.virginia.gov. Have a great week, and thanks for reading this week's installment of the news from Virginia's Capitol.
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