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Focus on Fairfax
Jan. 18, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
 
Greetings from Richmond!  Last Wednesday the General Assembly kicked off the 2016 session with the oath of office, a flurry of procedural activities, and the announcement of committee assignments.  I am pleased that I was reappointed to all three of my committees, including: Education; Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources; and General Laws.  In addition to the full committees, my subcommittee assignments include Housing, Natural Resources, and Education Innovation (which will consider bills to continue to reform our SOL tests).
 
2016 Constituent Survey
 
This year we will consider literally hundreds of bills.  Topics likely to be debated include funding for education, weather to expand Medicaid, tolls on I-66, energy, gun safety legislation, and several proposed constitutional amendments - just to name a few.  We will also adopt Virginia's biennial budget. 
 
Please take a few moments to share your thoughts by filling out my 2016 Constituent Survey.  I will post the results in the next few weeks.  Make sure your voice is heard!
 
First Bill of the Session
 
The session started off on a bi-partisan note by passing a bill designed to protect small businesses from an insurance change that could have resulted in significant premium increases.  Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses between 51 and 100 employees were due to be grouped into the more expensive small group insurance market.  Recognizing that this was an issue, the ACA was amended at the federal level.  However, General Assembly approval is needed for the change to take place in Virginia.  HB58 passed unanimously with an emergency clause and is on its way to the Senate.  Hopefully this kind of cooperation is a harbinger of things to come.
 
Education Funding
 
I have received many emails and letters over the past few months about the need to fully fund our schools and to make sure that Virginia is providing its fair share of the funding.  My wife and I both graduated from Robinson Secondary and all three of our children have attended or currently attend Fairfax County Public Schools.  Maintaining our great education system is paramount to our quality of life.
 
There are a number of contributing factors to the current financial situation.  High office vacancy rates have reduced local revenue from the real property tax.  At the state level, the funding formula for education is simply unfair to localities like Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.  In addition, we have seen attacks on state Cost of Competing Adjustment (COCA) funding that recognizes that it is between 33% and 66% more expensive to live and work in Northern Virginia than any other part of the state.  Unfortunately, the General Assembly succeeded a few years ago in eliminating COCA funding for our educational support staff.
 
The Governor's budget contains some positive steps and includes a net increase of $854.9 million for K-12 education.  $429.8 of the proposed funding is for "re-benchmarking."  Re-benchmarking is a biennial adjustment to keep up with the cost to implement Virginia's very basic Standards of Quality.  However, much of that funding goes through the dreaded Local Composite Index, which is the formula that distributes funding throughout the state.

 

An additional $425.1 million is also proposed for a number of initiatives.  These include:

  • $139.1 million for additional school-based instructional positions designed to reduce class sizes, including one additional elementary teacher for each elementary school starting in FY17, and then two secondary school teachers for each middle, high, and combined school starting in FY18.  The catch is that local school districts must pay their share of the cost.
  • $83.2 million for the state's share of a 2.0% salary increase for all SOQ instructional and support positions, effective July 10, 2017.  Again, this represents the state's share, which must be matched by the local school district.
  • $55.1 million in FY18 to fully fund the state's share of VRS funding.
  • $40.6 million starting in FY18 for a Cost of Competing Adjustment for support personnel.  This is extremely important since most of this goes directly to Northern Virginia and not through the state funding formula.
  • $6.9 over the biennium for the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.
  • $2.5 million each year to support Career and Technical credentialing and equipment.
There are also a number of other policy changes and associated budget amendments.  Again, overall, it is a great foundation on which to build. 
 
On the higher education front, the Governor's budget includes an increase in $145 million.  While there are some very worthwhile initiatives ($10 million for new cyber security initiatives, $24.6 million for new workforce credential initiatives at our community colleges, etc.), I am concerned that only $50 million will actually help to control the cost of tuition.  Disinvestment in our higher education system has resulted in sharp increases in tuition.  For example, between FY2002 and FY2015, the state-funded portion of the Virginia Tech annual operating budget declined from 39 to 18 percent.  So again, while the Governor's budget is a good start, I am hopeful that we can put in more funding that will help reduce the cost of higher education.
 
My Legislation
 
This year I have introduced 11 bills, with an additional one that I will submit later this week on SOL reform.  More to come in my next newsletter.  If you want a sneak peek, you can see all my legislation here.
 
It is an honor to serve you in the House of Delegates.  Please do not hesitate to send me a note if you are interested in an issue or want to comment on legislation. And, don't forget to fill out my survey.
Sincerely,

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David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District

PS -- Save the date for my 2016 Constituent Day on February 15th.  More information to come.  
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