How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Weekly Column: Session Preview, Budget Shortfalls, Redistricting, Uranium & Social Issues

This column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch on January 5, 2012: 
Session Preview: Budget Shortfalls, Redistricting, Uranium & Social Issues 
On January 11, the newly-elected Virginia General Assembly convenes for a 60-day, “long” session. I expect it to be a contentious one.
The “money committees” estimate that Virginia faces a $1 billion shortfall due to many factors including the end of federal stimulus dollars, Virginia’s sluggish economy, constitutionally-required contributions to Virginia’s “rainy day fund,” required payments to the Virginia Retirement System because of no payments last year, and inflation. Despite the shortfall, the Governor has proposed several hundred million dollars of new initiatives to be funded with cuts to low-income preschool programs, Northern Virginia teacher salary supplements, other secondary education funds, and health care for children and seniors.

Congressional redistricting will also be an early battle. Redistricting was not completed in 2011 as required by the Virginia Constitution. The legislature’s leadership will likely try to pass new gerrymandered districts which will head to the courts.

The Virginia Retirement System (VRS) is now underfunded by $20 billion. Our entire two-year General Fund Budget is about $35 billion. This results from last session’s failure to make a $690 million contribution to the retirement system, a stagnant stock market and the General Assembly’s failure to follow the VRS’s Trustees’ recommendations in 14 of 16 years. Some legislators believe we should switch to a 401k-style pension. I believe we should continue and fund our existing pension system.

The media has spotlighted legislation to lift Virginia’s uranium mining moratorium which dates from the early 1980s. I am still strongly leaning against lifting the moratorium. I am not convinced that uranium mining can be done safely in Virginia or that the risk of permanently damaging the drinking water source for one-seventh of Virginia’s population is worth creating about 400 jobs in one area of the state.
Finally, with the likely change of party control in the state Senate, from Democratic to Republican, we expect to see a slew of social agenda bills. The first bill already filed in the House of Delegates would give a fetus the rights of a human being. Bills have been filed to allow college professors to carry weapons, authorize unregulated “Made in Virginia” firearms, repeal Virginia’s “one gun a month” purchase limit, increase state law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement and limit people’s right to vote. I have a number of bills that I will carry and will discuss in my next column.

Young Leaders Needed
I am seeking applications for the Amundson Institute (formerly Young Leaders Program). Anyone who is a high school junior or senior and lives in the 44th District is eligible. Young Leaders come to Richmond for two days to see how the legislature operates. They meet policymakers, shadow me during committee meetings and floor sessions and present a project on state government. It is a very rewarding experience. Information on the applications and the boundaries of the 44th District are on my website or my blog, http://www.scottsurovell.org/.

The people of my district will soon receive my issues survey. Please return a copy or save a stamp and complete a more comprehensive survey online at www.scottsurovell.org/survey. It is critical that I hear the views and suggestions of the people of the 44th District. You can also always email feedback to me at scottsurovell@gmail.com or provide through my website.  As always, you can also read more about my views and work on your behalf on my blog, “The Dixie Pig” – scottsurovell.blogspot.com – where I have posted over 260 articles over the last two years.

I encourage you to visit me in Richmond to share your concerns and see the legislature in action. Let us know if you are coming and we can schedule a tour of our historic State Capitol. Also, please give me your suggestions for commending resolutions for important community organizations, events or citizens over the coming year.

Town Meeting, Jan. 14
On Saturday, January 14, at 10:00 a.m., I will host a Town Hall Meeting with Senator Toddy Puller and Senator Adam Ebbin at the Mt. Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306 to get your input and questions.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve. It is an honor to be your state delegate.

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