2011 General Assembly Q&A
Members of Henrico's delegation discuss key issues of the session
1. What is the most important issue facing the General Assembly this year?
Massie – Issues numbers one, two, and three are jobs and the economy. Last year the state made a $57 million commitment to economic development. Approximately another $50 million commitment will be made this year. In the last 12 months 17,302 new jobs were created that are tied directly to that economic development investment. Overall, 67,900 jobs have been added in Virginia in the last year. Jobs are at the heart of family financial security and the well being of the commonwealth and her citizens. Getting Virginians back to work will provide income and revenues that will pay bills.
McQuinn – The allocation of any budget surplus is the most important issue facing the General Assembly this year because we have asked our citizens to tighten their belts drastically in the last session and they have done so. We must make equitable, fair and informed decisions given these drastic cuts in allocating any additional resources this session. We also have to create more jobs and stimulate economic development to help deter the drastic unemployment individuals have faced in this economy.
Morrissey – Without question, the most important issue facing the General Assembly this year is funding a long term sustainable source of revenue for our roads and rail services. Virginia’s future is dependent upon a Class “A,” top tier road system.
O’Bannon – The most important issue facing us this year will again be the economy and our need to improve jobs in Virginia and especially in the Richmond area. While we did accomplish things last year, we will be looking at the Governor’s proposal to invest in new grants for research and development at our universities. The economy must remain our primary focus until our unemployment rate improves.
Peace – I want to see the Assembly make a smaller government, which should lead to a stronger economy. A positive climate for job creation and economic development includes no new taxes and a commitment to fiscal responsibility and limited spending.
McEachin – The perilous economy and the need to ensure that Virginians have jobs is the most important issue we face this year.
Stosch – Among the most important issues: (1) jobs creation and helping workers to return to meaningful and productive work; (2) preventing any increased tax burden yet meet critical core functions of government while managing a balanced budget; (3) in view of escalating tuition, ensure that an affordable and accessible education is available to all students after high school.
Watkins – This is the “short session” and most of the focus should be placed on budgetary issues. It is also significant to keep in mind that we will be receiving population data from the Bureau of Census during February and that immediately following, or shortly thereafter, we will be going back into session to deal with redistricting. Preliminary numbers indicate that Virginia will reflect a population of eight million people that will translate into a Senate district representing approximately 200,000 citizens.
2. What legislation do you plan to introduce during this year’s session?
Massie – My broadest and most far reaching bills this year are in the area of education. First, I have introduced a school choice bill which will provide scholarship assistance to students who would benefit from an alternative to public education. Virginia, and in particular Henrico County, has wonderful public schools. However, not all aspects of public education are right for every child. This bill will empower families to have alternatives and to choose, competitively, the right educational environment for their child. As benefits other important decisions, families will have broader educational opportunities. Second, for students with autism spectrum disorder, I ask that the professional aides that support their daily learning be trained in behavior management. These aides typically do not receive training assistance currently prior to assuming their responsibilities. There is a broad consensus among educators and families that training is beneficial and the right thing to do. This bill will require that the training requirements be defined and funding provided.
McQuinn – I plan to introduce bills that would: require gang-free and drug-free zones within 1000 feet of senior housing; provide for the property transfer of the burial ground property from VCU to the City of Richmond; allow localities to appoint receivers to abate and repair vacant properties; provide for the creation of defense manufacturing and technology zones to lure those businesses to the City of Richmond to aid economic development, create more jobs and establish new industries in those areas; require Criminal Justice Services to develop a plan to deter juvenile delinquency; create a James River Park license plate; require notification of DMV and forfeiture of a vehicle involved in eluding police; require the establishment by the state police of a vehicular pursuit database; require uniform driver training standards for law-enforcement emergency calls and pursuits; commend the 20th anniversary of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation; and allow the serving of wine or beer at an art instruction studio.
Morrissey – I have introduced 15 bills. I am particularly proud of my plastic bag legislation, which will produce positive results for the environment, farmers, nature lovers and Virginia. Currently, more than two billion plastic bags end up in Virginia landfills, rivers and crop land each year. This is disgraceful. Further, it takes more than 50 years for each bag to decompose! I represent five jurisdictions with a total of 29 elected City Council/Board of Supervisors members. So far, only 1 elected official, Supervisor O’Bannon, opposes my plastic bag initiative. Other bills include a 20/20 renewable energy portfolio, a ban on cigarette butt littering, and a bill to extend protective orders to those individuals in a dating relationship.
O’Bannon – I have legislation to fight childhood obesity by increasing physical education to a daily basis in our public schools. I also have legislation to close the loophole on open-ended lending by the payday lenders. I’ll be working on the healthcare part of the budget as a member of our Appropriations committee.
Peace – At the request of Henrico County, I introduced House Bill 1822 to support the county’s effort to recruit new businesses particularly those industries that produce products helpful to the defense industry. The bill also authorizes local governments to establish, by ordinance, local defense production zones including incentives and regulatory flexibility for the design, development, or production by a defense production business of materials, components, or equipment for national defense.
McEachin – I am introducing a wide variety of legislation. I will have legislation concerning job creation, a bill to ensure that sexual orientation cannot be a cause for discrimination in state employment and a bill to make electricity rates fairer and simpler. I am also bringing bills to reform the foreclosure process so that homeowners get more notice and have more options.
Stosch – My legislation includes: (1) legislation as requested by the governor to encourage jobs creation and consolidation of functions within government to promote operating efficiency (SB 1123, SB 1124, SB 1132, SB 1360); (2) extend the tax credit program which provides financial aid from private donations for low and middle income students lacking funds to attend college or trade schools (SB 1129); (3) enact amendment approved by the voters to provide real estate tax relief for veterans with service connected total disability (SB 1358); expand the community college transfer grant program used to encourage students to attend community colleges as a gateway to a four year degree (SB 1363); create a pilot veterans’ claims officer role to serve veterans with outstanding disability claims (SB 1357); provide the right of workers to vote by secret ballot on labor organization representation (SB 1125); eliminate unnecessary tax laws and regulations (SB 1130).
Watkins – The primary issues in the upcoming session will be the budget and the Governor’s proposed transportation plan. The budget remains a challenge due to a slow, yet steady, return to some revenue growth. At this time many of the projections are close to being met.
3. What is your opinion about the idea of privatizing Virginia’s liquor stores?
Massie – The for-profit business of buying liquor wholesale and selling it retail is not a core service that the commonwealth needs to provide to her citizens. Therefore, privatization is an alternative to be considered. There is broad consensus that this is prudent public policy. However, the devil is in the details and finding the right business model. The governor introduced a new ABC plan last week and it will be reviewed carefully by the members of the General Assembly. I know that there is a concern among constituents that the program is working well and therefore, does not need to be changed. I agree that the program runs smoothly but, nonetheless is not a core service. The fact that it is not broken means we have time to be cautious and choose the correct business model for change. I know, too, that there is question among constituents of how a change may affect problems associated with increased alcohol consumption. Time will allow us to review studies to determine the correlation between a program change and the any associated repercussions.
McQuinn – I am opposed to the privatizing of Virginia’s liquor stores because it will create the loss of an ongoing reliable source of revenue for the state. I am also concerned that privatization will take away state control of the locations of liquor stores and possibly cause increased location of liquor stores in low-income areas resulting in harm to socially disadvantaged citizens.
Morrissey – Privatization is not a good idea. Adding nearly 700 liquor stores and thousands of square feet of shelf space for the sale of Jack Daniels and other spirits is not prudent. Virginia ABC is one agency that is not broken and produces a steady stream of income ($250 million to $300 million) each and every year. Let’s not jeopardize this revenue stream by privatizing either the wholesale or retail side of alcoholic sales.
O’Bannon – I have not supported privatization in the past. I will look at the current proposal.
Peace – Governor McDonnell is pursuing a bold agenda to reform government and make it more efficient for the taxpayer. He believes in ending a 70+ year old monopoly and prioritizing the core functions of government.
McEachin – There is no reason to fix something that isn’t broken and lose money in the process. This proposal doesn’t even raise significant dollars towards our transportation needs. Yet, we risk a proliferation of liquor stores on every corner, near middle and high schools and other place where vulnerable youth congregate. Suddenly, kid friendly stops like Sheetz and Wal-Mart will be promoting hard liquor on their shelves.
Stosch – A slight majority of my constituents have indicated they would approve of privatizing the sale of alcoholic beverages. But, they quickly add, it depends on how it is accomplished. They do not want the plan to reduce funds available for education and other services nor would they like to see a plan that encourages a proliferation of retail stores on every corner or which encourages greater consumption. So, this is one of those issues we will need to see more details before we can make an informed vote.
4. Do you support Gov. McDonnell’s transportation plan, which calls for a $2.9-billion bond issuance to fund projects during the next three years? If not, how would you propose to address transportation funding?
Massie – A first class economy needs a first class transportation system. We want Virginia to be the number one state for businesses and families. Therefore, I agree with the governor that transportation dollars need to be found. My first impression of the governor’s newly announced transportation plan is that it may be a little debt heavy.
McQuinn – I have not yet formed an opinion on the governor’s transportation plan due to the numerous plans submitted by the administration. I await a final transportation plan from the governor so that I can make an informed decision on its merit.
Morrissey – A portion of the governor’s transportation plan has merit. I support the issuance of bonds as one component of a comprehensive transportation plan. However, spending $2.9 billion of borrowed money and servicing the debt with future/expected federal transportation dollars is not prudent. The state cannot afford to “max out its credit card” in the next three years leaving virtually nothing (i.e. less than $50 million) for years 5-7. A wise, thoughtful and fiscally prudent transportation plan must include a$.10 cent gas tax, indexed to inflation, with the provision that all gas tax revenue must go to road maintenance or construction.
O’Bannon – I am inclined to support the use of bonding for transportation so long as it doesn’t negatively impact our debt capacity. Most of us have mortgages and know what long term debt means. If the rating agencies tell us the state’s bonding capacity is in good shape, the proposal makes sense. I will look at it carefully with those issues in mind.
Peace – Since I am not on the Transportation committee I have not had the bill presented to me. I applaud the governor for putting forward a plan to try to get roads built and traffic moving again.
McEachin – To truly address our transportation crisis, we need to have a dedicated long-term funding stream. What form this will take, I am not yet sure. I think we need to look at some combination of user fees, perhaps something that ensures that out of state truckers who put the most wear and tear on our infrastructure, pay their fair share for the privilege.
Stosch – While we have not seen all of the details of the governor’s plan, most believe transportation is reaching a crisis. The governor proposes to issue bonds that were authorized in 2007 and to use others resources to move forward on critical transportation projects. My support will be influenced by ensuring that the self imposed limit on debt service cost of 5 percent of average revenues is met, that any state supported debt be limited and that general funds for such core services as public safety and education are not jeopardized.
Watkins – The governor has presented a plan which calls for the use of bonds to secure transportation funding during the next three years. There is significant support among the business community for this plan. It becomes a challenge again, from a budgetary standpoint, to maintain the debt service levels within the five percent of general fund revenue model that has been utilized and has helped Virginia maintain its AAA bond rating. I feel it is imperative that Virginia protect its financial viability with that bond rating. I have suggested that the fuel surcharges which are paid by the users of our transportation system be configured on an index that adjusts with the consumer price index. This would enable the transportation system to retain the buying power needed to properly maintain and construct our road system.
5. How do you propose handling the state’s $400-million budget surplus?
Massie – During the budget approval process last session a $1.8 billion shortfall was projected for 2010 and $2.1 billion was projected each year for 2011 and 2012. Governor McDonnell is to be congratulated for the surplus and for balancing the budget the “old fashioned way” – that is, by reducing spending and not by increasing taxes. I believe that the surplus should be directed to economic development/jobs creation, education and transportation, in that order of priority. The surplus should be distributed prudently and not recklessly. I believe that Virginia will manage the surplus in the same manner that has resulted in being one of the best managed states in the nation.
McQuinn – Given the severe cuts made in the last session of the General Assembly, we have a responsibility to replace lost revenues to critical services for our citizens. Those critical services were across the board, but included education, healthcare, social services and other necessary areas. These critical services were provided by local governments and any additional dollars should help to defray the extra burden placed on local governments for providing these essential services.
Morrissey – The first $75 million of the $400 million should be used to repay the money that was borrowed from the Virginia Retirement system last year. The next $100 million should be re-invested in higher education with priority given to tuition assistance. The governor and I both agree that if we are to graduate an additional 100,000 students from our colleges and universities, we must make it affordable for them to attend said colleges and universities. The next $100 million should be invested in Chesapeake Bay and related tributary clean-up. The final $125 million should be invested in the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which will support critically needed road needs.
O’Bannon – Remember that the $400 million “surplus” represents a combination of cuts in some areas and new proposals in others. I commend Bob McDonnell for his proposals in higher education and transportation. Our key focus must remain the economy and jobs. We’ll also have a payment due to the savings account, our “Rainy Day” fund next year – we might want to start saving some for that as well.
Peace – Much if not all of the unappropriated balance has been designated by statute for items like the Transportation and Water Quality Improvement Fund. The Governor has proposed amendments to the current two year budget. The budget bill may be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4mr7n58.
McEachin – This is not a real surplus. But, to the extent we have monies we did not anticipate, we need to keep our promises to state workers and we need to fund our higher education. All the state schools not only took a huge hit in the past few years, but tuition has, at the same time, risen greatly. At our own VCU, where many Richmond area students attend, tuition has gone up exorbitantly and now the governor chooses to punish them by reducing funding. All this does is punish those very students whose families are already struggling to cope with the increased tuition. Now, they pay more for fewer services. We need to address this imbalance. Without a good affordable higher education system, Virginia will not have the well trained work force we need to attract first rate companies to the commonwealth.
Stosch – There is no surplus just because you have money in the bank, if you still have bills in the drawer. The reported surplus is the amount that the actual revenues collected exceeded estimates for 2010 and is not a surplus in the sense that it is unclaimed. There are more than enough claims for outstanding obligations to fully consume the $400 million, including unfunded retirement and other employee costs, which were not fully funded in the budget.
Reynolds Community College will host Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale Sept. 28 as he shares his presentation “Art Talk, Why Art Matters” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Conference Center Gallery of the Workforce Development and Conference Center on the Parham Road Campus, located at 1651 E. Parham Road in Richmond. This event is free and open to the public. > Read more.
The Children's Clothing Closet at Highland Springs United Methodist Church will be open Saturday, Aug. 27 and Tuesday, Aug. 30 to provide free new or nearly new children's clothing for families in need, prior to the start of the school year. The Clothing Closet will be open from 10 a.m. to noon both days. The church is located at 22 North Holly Avenue. > Read more.
For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarThe Henrico County Community Author Showcase, a program that connects writers and readers in the community, will begin at 7 p.m. and continue on the second Monday and every Thursday of the month at various libraries. Sabin Duncan will share “Assuming Hurts” at Fairfield Library. For details, visit http://www.henricolibrary.org/authors. Full text