The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 17, 2014.
The Budget Debate Begins
This week in Richmond brought some surprises, good news and some frustration.First the good news. On Sunday, the House and Senate announced their budgets signaling the beginning of budget negotiations. Senator Puller was able to secure language to prioritize funding for preliminary engineering and environmental studies necessary to continue the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Analysis Study. I am hopeful we can keep that in the final budget once the negotiations begin.Second, the Senate budget amendments also proposed some Senate Republicans’ alternative way to provide insurance coverage to low income Virginians using a “revenue recovery fund” instead of an outright Medicaid expansion. There is some bipartisan support for expanding coverage, but it is not clear if there are enough votes to get legislation through the House of Delegates.Third, the Governor’s budget proposed increasing Fairfax County’s education transfer by $18 million in FY14 and $28 million in FY15 – a total of $46 million in new secondary education money for Fairfax County. However, the House’s proposed budget increases Fairfax County’s transfer by $1,000,000 for FY14-15 and the Senate version increases that by approximately $10 million. Hopefully, the Senate will prevail.Fourth, both the House and Senate budget amendments included my proposal to restore paying Virginia’s dues to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB). The ICPRB was created in 1940 to collectively manage Potomac River’s seven billion gallon average daily water flow and quality between the five states in the Potomac River Watershed of which Virginia is the biggest. Governor McDonnell refused to pay our dues for four years. That seems to be over.The House budget also adopted my proposal to require the Attorney General to provide annual reports on spending on outside counsel – such as the $750,000 and counting spent on Governor McDonnell’s outside counsel. Right now, there is little to no budget oversight.The big surprise of the week was a Federal Court ruling about gay marriage in Virginia. The ruling held that Virginia’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, statutory ban on gay marriage, and statutory prohibition on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages and civil unions all violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The decision was stayed pending review by the Fourth Circuit, but it really stirred things up.I have introduced legislation to repeal the constitutional ban the last two sessions and the statutory ban this session. This year, I received bipartisan support for my bill and I am hopeful that one day marriage equality will become a realty in Virginia. My perspective is that marriage is about loving committed couples who want to make lifelong promises to take care of and be responsible for each other in good times and bad. Denying someone a chance at happiness that comes with being married because of who they love seems hurtful to me. We will see if this continues to dominate this session.Unfortunately, the leadership in the House of Delegates refused to allow a hearing on my legislation that would empower Fairfax County to restrict car title lending. They also refused to docket my hearing that would prohibit someone who is on the Terrorist Watchlist from obtaining a concealed handgun permit or prohibit the sale of a gun to a terrorist.I also introduced legislation for the fifth time to reallocate seats on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) by actual population. The Northern Virginia District’s 2.3 million residents still have the same vote as districts with 375,000 people. Similar legislation was introduced by two Northern Virginia Republican colleagues. The Transportation Committee Chairman refused to give the legislation a hearing.The House of Delegates passed legislation last week authorizing $60 million of tax credits over six years to film and television production. I viewed this as a poor use of taxpayer dollars. Studies from the State of Louisiana and the conservative leaning Tax Foundation suggest the return to taxpayers is $0.13-0.25 for every dollar spent. I believe we have better priorities.This week, we get to work on bills from each other’s chambers and the budget. As always, if you have any feedback please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.