At the beginning of this General Assembly session, I urged my colleagues in the state legislature to avoid exacerbating current economic uncertainties with the imposition of new taxes. Unfortunately on the issue of transportation, the legislature missed the mark. The majority of Virginians will pay more and have less disposable income to invest in the economy. Even if you subscribe to trickle-down economics, the trickle is becoming more of a drip. In the end, the transportation bill is actually more reflective of a greater problem in state government where decisions are increasingly made without regard to the middle class family.
I voted against the transportation tax increase contained in the conference report for House Bill 2313. Now having passed, the bill will become law pending amendments by Governor Bob McDonnell. The legislation raises the state sales tax, car tax, regional sales tax, vehicle and tangible personal property taxes, vending machine tax, heavy equipment tax, recordation tax on commercial, industrial and residential real property sales, hotel tax, hybrid vehicle tax, and diesel fuel tax. And what is worse, there is no guarantee that all of the money raised will actually go to roads.
Delegate Peace visits with school nurses
Let's face it. Transportation will always be with us, and as a result massive taxing and spending in uncertain economic times is not the answer. Several alternatives to these untimely tax increases include prioritizing a greater percentage of the sales tax to transportation recognizing it as the core service of government it is. Further, we could dedicate more of our budget surpluses to road funding. We can also reform the Commonwealth Transportation Board to better reflect the Urban Crescent by adding an additional representative for the Richmond Region and other high traffic areas. In fact, I carried legislation two years in a row to do just that. The bill was set to pass until it was dismissed in favor of HB 2313. Finally, "locking up" the Transportation Trust Fund against diversions to other purposes is vital. In each of my eight years, I have supported a lock-box for transportation but while the proposal has passed the House year after year it has failed in the Senate. Again, I voted no on House Bill 2313 but the bill passed in the proverbial "left" hand lane.
Although I wasn't pleased with the overall transportation plan, the elimination of tolls was a bright spot in the bill. Del. Dance and I amended the bill to include that provision. I'm pleased that we were able to send a clear message that imposing tolls on I-95 south of Fredericksburg was a bad idea, and more importantly, that the Virginia General Assembly will now serve as a barrier to tolls on this important transportation corridor.
Chesapeake Bay Governor's School Students from the District stopped by to visit
This transportation bill is actually more reflective of a greater problem highlighted by conservative commentator James A. Bacon who wrote "[L]et's dig a little deeper and ask ourselves, whom does that [tax and] spending benefit? It benefits drivers who place the greatest value on their time, in other words, those who earn the most money. Raising taxes to build more roads benefits the affluent far more than the middle class and working class...There is a reason why the special interests are driving this tax increase forward. They expect to reap the spoils."
Who is standing up for the middle class? Who is speaking for the small plumbing contractor or the working family whose kids are in daycare full time so the parents can work? Republicans can be pro-business and pro-middle class. Sadly, middle class Virginians are bearing the impact of social and corporate welfare. Corporate tax credits, procurement reform and the Chamber's position on Medicaid are good examples. I don't blame businesses who want to spread their needs for improvements to infrastructure onto their own workers or socialize their risk by dumping their employees into public insurance. In the end, the majority of us pay for it through higher premiums and less access to care. According to a recent Rasmussen poll an overwhelming majority of Americans, like me, still believe in the free enterprise system but most now associate "capitalism" with bailouts and gifts to corporations. It is time for a new brand of conservatism.
We must stand up for working Virginia families on issues like keeping college tuition in check or reforming the crony-capitalist procurement laws that only benefit large out of state contractors with your tax dollars. I introduced legislation this year to tie tuition to inflation providing a modicum of restraint to runaway fees and tuition. Tuition is growing at unsustainable rates and students and families going into greater debt to pay for it, Virginia Republicans should support a more affordable college education. Further we also need to be the party of personal liberty placing the proper burden of responsibility on the individual to make right choices and the faith community and families to guide and influence them. The era of big state government needs to end.
Over the coming weeks I will distribute updates on the other actions of this General Assembly session: good, bad and ugly.
Thank you for the privilege of serving the people of the 97th District. It is my high honor and I do it to the best of my ability.
Art students and parents from Rural Point and Pole Green Elementary came to the Capitol this week!!!
Medicaid Reform First
Following the Supreme Court decision which dictated the constitutionality of ObamaCare but left Medicaid extension to the states, state governments immediately faced a Hobson's choice. Several Republican Governor's, most recently John Kasich (OH) and Rick Scott (FL), have already acted to expand Medicaid. Medicaid is the United States health program for certain people and families with low incomes and resources. It is a means-tested program that is jointly funded by a cost-share between state and federal governments, but is managed by the states under certain parameters.
Even with the Federal government pledging to cover 100% of the costs of extension for the first 3 years of the program, the decision is not easy. First, as an American citizen I do not want to aid and abet the federal government further spending itself over a financial precipice. Nor, do I, as a state delegate, want to bust our own budget. Over the past ten years Medicaid has been the fastest growing part of our general fund budget and on its current path is not sustainable. For this good reason, Governor Bob McDonnell has insisted that Medicaid extension would never happen in Virginia without reforms.
The facts are that the Governor of Virginia -- right now -- could implement Medicaid expansion without legislative approval. He can do so because he can accept Non-General Funds when the General Assembly is not in session. HE may also enter into agreements with the Feds on various programs (think McDonnell's Tolling proposal for 95). Right now, our Governor doesn't want to expand. He is our safety net to expansion.
However, no one knows who will be Governor next year. While I will support a conservative candidate, if Terry McAuliffe is elected along with a Democratic Lt. Governor Medicaid will get expanded WITHOUT reforms whether we like it or not. Florida's Governor did just that. If you are against Medicaid extension, the best odds you have to stave off extension are 50/50 with a Cuccinelli administration.
The approved budget conference report puts a "road bump," "wrench" or "veto" into this stark scenario by requiring reforms and a further check by a Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission made up of conservative legislators. The House Republican members to be appointed have stated that they will not agree to anything if there are not reforms. So not only is there some leverage but there is a backstop.
In the first phase of reform, the Department of Medical Assistance Services shall continue currently authorized reforms of the Virginia Medicaid/FAMIS service delivery model to include (i) implementation of a Medicare-Medicaid Enrollee (dual eligible) Financial Alignment demonstration; (ii) enhanced program integrity and fraud prevention efforts; (iii) inclusion of children enrolled in foster care in managed care; and (iv) implementation of a new eligibility and enrollment information system for Medicaid and other social services.
Therefore, the question presented was do nothing and have at best a 50/50 shot to avoid expansion. Or increase those odds slightly by creating a check in this process that can bring about needed reforms to the existing program and save Virginia taxpayers money. If Cuccinelli can win all of this is a mute point. While you cannot pour syrup on it and call it pancakes it is much better position for reform than if we did not act.