The 2017 General Assembly adjourned sine die Saturday, completing our work on time.
However, before I highlight some of our work this session, I want to take a moment to thank Speaker Howell for his years of public service to the Commonwealth. The Speaker announced his retirement last week. Speaker Howell has served honorably, placing the well-being of our historic institution and the Commonwealth over partisan politics. During his tenure as Speaker, he implemented numerous initiatives to bring transparency and fairness to the legislative process. It has been a privilege to serve with Speaker Howell and I wish him and Cessie all the best.
Following the Speaker’s announcement, the House Republican Caucus unanimously elected Kirk Cox as Speaker-Designee. Delegate Cox currently serves as our Majority Leader. Delegate Todd Gilbert, our local Shenandoah Valley representative to the North, was unanimously elected as Majority Leader-Designee. I have every confidence this new leadership team will continue the legacy of proactive, responsible and conservative governance that Speaker Howell initiated. Congratulations to both Delegates Cox and Gilbert on their new leadership roles.
To bolster the sluggish economic environment in the Commonwealth, we advanced proposals aimed at promoting a positive, pro-business climate and protecting small businesses through regulatory reform. Republicans in the House of Delegates are also leading the effort to review Virginia’s economic development spending to ensure that we are maximizing the effectiveness of your tax dollars. In light of the disappointing report last year that revealed poor performance and mismanagement at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the General Assembly approved specific legislation this session reforming that entity.
Improving our education system is always a top priority for the legislature. Despite the shortfall, we were able to protect the new investment made in K-12 education last year and restore funding for the 2% teacher pay raise later in fiscal year 2018.
While overall Virginia’s public schools perform extremely well when compared to the other states, there are some school divisions that are struggling. There are also individuals students, even in high performing school divisions, that slip through the cracks. We approved several proposals and funding initiatives designed to support both struggling school divisions and individual students. The General Assembly invested over $7 million in a proposal designed to offer support for school divisions that have seen at least a 5% decline in enrollment the past five years. It is no coincidence that in many instances the lower performing divisions also have seen significant enrollment decreases. In addition, we approved a charter school proposal specifically targeted towards poor performing schools. This legislation allows the Department of Education to create a charter school on a regional basis. Under this new legislation, local school boards still maintain significant decision making authority. Finally, we took steps to finalize the establishment of Virginia’s virtual school. This legislation would greatly benefit students that may not thrive or even be able to participate in the traditional classroom setting. The bottom line is we want to make sure all students have the opportunity to succeed, despite their unique circumstances.
The most critical task every year is crafting and revising the two year state budget. Despite facing over a billion dollar shortfall heading into session, I am happy to report that we passed a responsible, and structurally-balanced amended budget that continues to offer targeted investments in core services
Here are some of the highlights of the amended 2016-2018 state budget:
- The budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians.
- 3% salary increase for state employees, as well as starting pay increase for State Police, sheriff and jail compression adjustment, and other targeted increases for various groups of state employees and state-supported local employees.
- Revised budget invests an additional $18 million in new funding for K-12 over the Governor’s proposal. Our funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility to spend the money as best suits them.
- Includes $32 million for a 2% teacher pay raise, with no local match required, effective February 2018.
- The budget does not include Medicaid expansion. Given the likely replacement of the Affordable Care Act, it would be pure folly to consider Medicaid expansion when it is highly likely the federal funding for expansion will be eliminated or significantly reduced in the near future. Instead, we continued to build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net through targeted investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment services.
- The final budget maintains the Governor’s accelerated sales tax expansion to a larger pool of retailers. However, I was somewhat encouraged to see budget language that directs the Department of Taxation to convene a workgroup for the purpose of reviewing the accelerated sales tax and making recommendations to the General Assembly. Time will tell if this initiative leads to a successful effort to eliminate its use.
We will return to Richmond on April 5 for the Reconvene Session to consider the Governor’s amendments to the budget and other legislation, as well as any legislation he has vetoed.
Need Regulation Relief?
Now that session has concluded, many of the various boards and commissions that meet in the interim are beginning to develop their work plan for the coming year. The Chairman of one of these entities that I serve on, the Small Business Commission, recently sent out a call to the membership to solicit feedback from small business owners on what state regulations might be in need of repeal or revision.
So with that, I want to hear from you. If you have a specific regulation in mind that impacts small businesses that needs to be repealed or revised, please let me know! I will be sure to share your suggestions with the other Commission members. I expect that once all of the feedback has been considered, the Commission will pick a number of suggestions to investigate further and present possible remedies for later in the year.
Even if your suggestions are not picked up by the Commission for formal review, I welcome the opportunity to follow up on your concerns as part of my normal legislative duties. Doing so over the course of my tenure has resulted in a sizeable portion of my legislation.
Save the Date!
This year my annual clay shoot fundraiser will be held on Friday, May 5 at the Flying Rabbit in Mount Crawford. Please mark your calendar for this fun event! Even if you have never shot clays before, I would encourage you to join us. There are always several folks new to the sport and there will be plenty of seasoned marksmen on-hand to help you out. More details to follow.
Given that the 2017 General Assembly session is complete, we are now able to resume fundraising activities. If you wish to contribute to my campaign, please click here to donate. You can also mail contributions to P.O. Box 1147, Harrisonburg, VA 22803. Make checks payable to “Wilt for Delegate.” Thank you in advance for your support!
Contact My Office
I appreciate all of your calls, emails and personal visits over the course of session. Please know that this critical feedback is an important factor in my decision making process when considering my vote on legislation.
I hope you will continue to stay connected with me over the coming months. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if we might be of assistance to you in any way.
We are once again working out of the Harrisonburg district office. You may call (540) 208-0735 to reach us by phone. The district office is located at 420 Neff Avenue, Suite 130, Harrisonburg. Please continue to email DelTWilt@house.virginia.gov.