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Focus on Fairfax
September 26, 2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

 

I am looking forward to my first informal office hours of the season this Saturday, September 27th at Main Street Bagel.  This is an opportunity for constituents to ask questions about issues of interest or to find out what is going on with our state government.  The format is casual.  Similar to previous years, I will be having events in the City of Fairfax and Centreville.  All events will take place from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.  The coffee is on me!

I am also happy to arrange individual appointments on specific issues or concerns.  More information can be found at www.davidbulova.com.

 

Medicaid, Budget Cuts, and Judges, Oh My!

 

The General Assembly reconvened on September 18th to address a number of important issues, including whether to accept federal funding to provide health care for up to 400,000 uninsured Virginians.  The focus of the debate was HB5008, introduced by Delegate Tom Rust.  While it wasn't perfect, I thought the bill represented a genuine compromise that was worthy of support.  The bill included the creation of a non-reverting Virginia Health Care Independence Taxpayer Recovery Fund to capture federal health care money owed to Virginia, a Bridge Program to govern the short-term use of the fund in the most efficient manner possible, and the development of a Virginia Health Care Independence Innovation Plan to guide long-term reforms to our health care delivery system.  The bill also had a unique feature to make sure that someone transitioning out of poverty doesn't actually get penalized for accepting a job or a promotion because he or she would lose more money by having health care support cut off.  Finally, in a nod to those concerned that the federal government won't keep up its end of the bargain, the bill would limit Virginia's financial exposure by sun-setting the program in December 2016 (that is, the program expires unless the General Assembly takes affirmative action) or terminating the program if federal funding falls below promised amounts.

 

Unfortunately, the legislation was defeated on a vote of 33Y-64N.  It is important to remember that unlike many other federal programs, the proposed Medicaid expansion is funded through new taxes that have already been imposed on Virginia citizens and businesses.  As a result of our inaction, Virginia loses about $5 million per day of our money that could help struggling families here at home.  While I was disappointed in the result, I look forward to continuing the debate during the 2015 session.

 

The General Assembly also took up the unpleasant, but necessary task of making cuts to balance the state budget.  It has always been a point of pride to me that our Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget.  On this matter, the General Assembly rallied around a compromise package that passed 93Y-4N.  Much of the decline in state revenue can be traced back to the ongoing effects of federal sequestration on Virginia's economy.  In all, the General Assembly agreed to cut $192 million from state agencies, $45 million from higher education, and $30 million for aid to local governments.  An additional $272 million in reductions will be included in the Governor's introduced budget for the 2015 session.  Finally, the General Assembly used $705 million from our revenue stabilization fund (aka, "rainy day fund").  The rainy day fund is an important tool that forces Virginia to save money during good times so that it can be used during unexpected revenue shortfalls.  A critical consideration in my vote for the budget was that the cuts do not affect K-12 public education.  In addition, our local governments are given flexibility to decide where they want to make cuts, rather than having Richmond make those decisions for them. 

 

While these cuts were necessary, I think it is also important to take a harder look at the billions of dollars in tax credits that have been passed in Virginia with little or no ongoing scrutiny into whether they are actually achieving their desired goals.  For example, a legislative study in 2011 found that Virginia tax preferences with public policy goals reduced taxpayer liability by approximately $2.9 billion annually. 

 

Finally, the General Assembly took up the task of confirming judges.  Virginia is one of only two states where the legislature is responsible for selecting its judges.  While judges must go through an official process in Richmond, in practice each regional delegation is responsible for choosing their judges.  The "Fairfax Delegation" voluntarily adopted a non-partisan, merit-based system in the 1970s that has served our area well and has avoided the kind of judicial politicization that you see in other parts of the state.  Congratulations to our newest Circuit Court judge, Grace Burke Carroll.

 

Ethics Panel

 

While it was better than no action at all, I was disappointed that the General Assembly was not more aggressive last year in reforming ethics laws that apply to elected officials.  For instance, while we put a cap of $250 on tangible gifts, legislators are free to take any and all intangible gifts (including meals and travel) with no cap whatsoever.  To that end, I am pleased that the Governor has announced the formation of the Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government.  The commission, made up of 10 members from both political parties, will look at a range of issues, including:

  • The benefits of a more independent Ethics Commission.
  • A cap or ban on gifts, including intangible gifts.
  • Rules for accepting government employment after serving in elected office.
  • A cap on campaign contributions.
  • Rules on the use of campaign contributions for personal purposes.
  • More stringent enforcement of disclosure requirements.
  • The process of selecting judges in Virginia.

I am looking forward to the commission's recommendations.  Information about the commission can be found here.

 

As always, it is an honor to serve you in the House of Delegates.  Hope to see you for one of my coffees or out in the community.
Sincerely,

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David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District

 
 
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