The 2016 General Assembly adjourned sine die on Friday, March 11. For the second year in a row we were able to complete our work a day ahead of schedule, allowing us to save taxpayer dollars.
Before I discuss the budget and other legislative initiatives, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that took the time to write or call about legislation and issues that were important to you. Please know that I appreciated your input as I deliberated over the various matters that we are sent to Richmond to address.
This year, the House of Delegates worked tirelessly to strengthen Virginia’s economy to help middle class families, improve our education system so all children have the opportunity to succeed, and chart a responsible fiscal course for the future.
One of the key measures that we approved to strengthen our economy was the establishment of the GO Virginia program. This is a business-led, bipartisan initiative to provide a new framework for economic and workforce development by encouraging collaboration between business leaders, the education community, local government, and state government. We also passed the necessary legislation to put a constitutional amendment for right to work on the ballot this fall. Assuming the measure is approved by the voters in November, this will add another layer of protection to keep labor unions from forcing Virginia workers to join as a condition of employment. Finally, we approved several bills that prevent local governments or state agencies from establishing job killing wage floors or prevailing wage requirements.
Improving our education system is a top priority for the House of Delegates. In addition to the over $900 million in new K-12 funding that was included in the budget conference report, we passed several initiatives to make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed. I was pleased to co-patron a measure to reform our high school graduation requirements to ensure they adequately prepare students for higher education or the workforce. We also approved several school choice initiatives that provide parents with options to obtain a great education for their child, regardless of their zip code or unique educational needs.
One of the most important tasks of the General Assembly is crafting the two year state budget. I am happy to report that the final budget conference report that passed both houses of the General Assembly is a responsible and structurally-balanced budget that invests in the core functions of government, while protecting precious taxpayer resources. It’s worth noting that the budget conference report does not contain any tax or fee increases.
Some highlights of the 2016-2018 budget conference report are as follows:
- A number of steps were taken to set Virginia on a responsible fiscal course – Among them is a $605 million deposit in the Rainy Day Fund, funding the annual contributions to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) at 100% of the Board certified rate, accelerating the $190 million repayment six years ahead of schedule for the VRS contribution rate deferral that occurred during the height of the great recession (moving forward this will save $44 million per year), and eliminating the accelerated sales tax requirement for 90% of Virginia businesses.
- We are investing over $900 million in new funding for K-12, significantly more than Governor McAuliffe proposed. Our funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility and offers the state portion of a 2% salary increase in the first year of the biennium for our teachers and support staff.
- The budget provides over $114 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families.
- It offers strategic investments in economic development by providing over $30 million in new funding for the GO Virginia initiative, doubling our investment in the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development fund, and additional support for broadband expansion initiatives in currently underserved rural areas. We also adopted additional oversight of our economic development programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
- The budget does not include Medicaid expansion or the Medicaid provider tax that Governor McAuliffe proposed. Instead, we continue to build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. We made additional investments in mental health and substance abuse treatment and approved over 350 new waiver slots above the Governor’s introduced budget to serve disabled individuals in our community.
As with all legislation that was passed by the General Assembly, the Governor has the opportunity to offer amendments to the budget. We are scheduled to return to Richmond on April 20 to consider the Governor’s amendments and vetoes.
Overall, I was pleased with the outcome of my legislation this session. I had six bills and five commending and memorial resolutions that passed the General Assembly. Among the bills, one has already been signed by the Governor and the others await his consideration.
The bill that has already been signed into law is HB 945. As you may recall, this legislation extends the moratorium on city initiated annexation. While I originally offered a ten year extension, a six year extension was approved. I felt this was reasonable, and still grants localities and businesses a degree of certainty when planning infrastructure improvements and development in areas that could potentially be affected by annexation in the near future.
While extending the moratorium was the prudent and appropriate thing to do, I would still prefer to see a permanent solution that satisfies all stakeholders involved. The moratorium was never intended to be a permanent ban. The legislation calls for the Commission on Local Government, in consultation with the stakeholders, to examine this issue and propose ideas for a permanent solution to the General Assembly by December 1, 2018.
I’m pleased to report that the legislation granting our Community Colleges the ability to conduct third-party CDL skills testing passed the legislature unanimously. This is one important component in addressing the testing issues brought about by new federal mandates last year. These requirements significantly reduced the number of CDL testing sites, causing delay for testing appointments and requiring applicants to travel longer distances to test (often at a somewhat significant expense to the employer). When the demand for qualified drivers has never been higher, we have a responsibility to ensure our government is not an impediment to meeting the demand in the economy for these high paying jobs.
Finally, I would like to highlight HB 942. This is the legislation that grants school access to volunteers and leaders of youth organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Once the bill reached the Senate, we were able to work with school officials to address some of their concerns with the legislation. However, I believe the final product moves the dial by ensuring improved access for these groups to reach young people who could benefit from the programs these groups offer. The legislation will be of most benefit in localities that currently grant no access to these groups, or only offer extremely limited access.
For a full list of the legislation I patroned this year, please visit the following link: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+mbr+H231C
Now that session has concluded, you can again contact my district office in Harrisonburg. Our office is located at 420 Neff Avenue, Suite 130. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1425, Harrisonburg, VA 22803. You can reach us by phone at (540) 208-0735 or by email at email@example.com.
It is a privilege to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. I hope you will stay connected with me over the coming months. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way.