The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, the Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of January 8, 2013.
Legislative Preview Part II: Budget Cuts, Road Shortfalls, and Uranium
Last week, I wrote about a few of the bills and budget amendments I’m going to be carrying this session. This week, I am going to write about some of the broader issues in play this session.
First, the State Budget has dominated legislative sessions since I was elected in 2009 and that is not likely to change. Although revenues are up over the last year by $340 million, due to the constitution and laws on the books, most of that money is already committed to the “Rainy Day Fund,” transportation, water quality improvement, and repaying the state retirement that was not funded in the 2010-2011 budget biennium. The remaining amount is $40 million or about $400,000 per delegate seat – that’s it.
To make more room for adjustment and new spending, the Governor has proposed yet another round of cuts which is never easy. Additionally, most bills that have any kind of revenue impact will be dead on arrival unless they are supported by the Governor.
Additionally, the specter of Sequestration is still hanging over us. The House Appropriations Committee has advised us that independent studies have predicted that if federal budget cuts his, Virginia is poised to lose 160,000 jobs and about $300 million in tax revenue – mostly lost income taxes. The next Fiscal Cliff battle hits right in the middle of our session.
There have been many articles in the news lately about transportation. Our current funding picture is dire. Fairfax County has received NO money for secondary road improvements in two years. Thirty percent of pavement is now deficient. VDOT told me last week that the lower section of Fort Hunt Road will not be repaved until 2014, if then, at the earliest. The state runs out of money for ALL construction in about four years.
Several plans have been floated. Most take money from secondary education, health care and public safety and only fund the state’s maintenance shortfall which is now about $750 million per year. I do not support paving roads with textbooks. The total shortfall including construction is close to $5 billion per year, $625 per Virginian per year, or the equivalent of $1.00 in new gas taxes which obviously isn't happening. It is so large because of 25 years of inaction and grows larger each year we do not do anything. I am pessimistic that the House of Delegates will support any new revenue.
The largest uranium deposit in the United States is located in Southside Virginia. Investors want the state to lift our moratorium on uranium mining adopted in 1983 after Three Mile Island. Uranium prices are going up now that we have run out of Russian nuclear warhead uranium. Every legislator from Southside opposes this legislation. I will as well.
Virginia allows Dominion Resources to charge consumers and businesses an extra $38 million per year to purchase renewable energy. When the legislation was adopted in 2007, the idea was that it would create new jobs in Virginia. Unfortunately, Dominion used their authority to purchase renewable energy off a pre-World War II dam in Maryland. We are rewriting the renewable law this year to require Dominion to purchase any renewable energy paid for by Virginians in Virginia and hopefully using new technology so that we can create jobs in our state.
Federal healthcare reform requires the state to set up a state healthcare exchange or defer to the federal government. Governor McDonnell has refused to set up a state exchange. I think this is a mistake. There are unique aspects of our healthcare system given our proximity to the District and Maryland. His position likely will not change this session.
Also, federal healthcare reform allows us to expand Medicaid with the Federal Government picking up 100% of the bill for two years and 90% about ten years out. Analyses show this would create 30,000 jobs in Virginia. The 44th District has the largest Medicaid population in Fairfax County including 9,000 children. Governor McDonnell has refused to support a Virginia Medicaid expansion. This is indefensible.
The session starts on Wednesday, January 8. Please come down and visit. We are happy to set up appointments with constituents and arrange a tour of your historic State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson. Send me an email at email@example.com if you have questions and thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.