The General Assembly will convene on January 9 to consider the first biennial budget presented by Governor Kaine. As was the case with Governor Warner, his predecessor prepared Kaine’s first two-year budget.
Kaine, of course, offered some important amendments in 2006, including his transportation funding plan that offered considerably more state revenues for Northern Virginia and the rest of the state than the plan that passed last year.
If Virginia’s Governors were allowed by the Virginia Constitution to run for a second consecutive term, the current budget timetable would not be such a problem.
Perhaps this will be the year such a Constitutional Amendment will pass the first of two approvals by the General Assembly. Delegate Bob Purkey (R-Virginia Beach) has already introduced the Constitutional amendment that would allow two consecutive terms or two non-consecutive terms. It would explicitly prohibit a third term, and it would be effective for the Governor elected in 2009.
Perhaps foreshadowing a year of controversies, several Republican leaders have already criticized the Governor’s revenue estimates as being too optimistic despite the endorsement of a bi-partisan group of experts. At the same time, they have criticized his use of the state’s “rainy day” fund even though most agree that the criteria to use it have been met.
The “Revenue Stabilization Fund” as it is called, is more than double the amount when Governor Kaine took office—at approximately $1.2 billion.
Without use of the fund, the current year fiscal year will not be in balance, and severe cuts may be necessary.
Other constitutional amendments will also be considered in January. One will allow the state to grant localities the opportunity give property tax relief by granting what is called a “homestead exemption.” The Virginia Constitution now allows property tax relief to limited-income disabled and senior citizens. The homestead exemption would allow relief to all people who own the homes in which they reside by exempting a certain portion of the value of the home from taxation. The value exempted could be a percentage or a set amount, and it would available only to homeowners. If passed by both Houses and by voters in the fall, the legislature would be authorized to pass specific enabling legislation in 2009.
Some business interests oppose the amendment because its passage would, they believe, put great pressure on local governing bodies to increase non-residential taxes to pay for revenues lost via the homestead exemption.
Senator Whipple and Delegate Bob Brink have introduced the amendment in the Senate and House respectively.
Delegate Brian Moran appears ready to introduce again the Constitutional Amendment establishing a commission to conduct the decennial re-apportionment of legislative districts. The Virginia Supreme Court would choose two members from each list provided by each of the two political parties having the highest number of General Assembly members. The Virginia Redistricting Commission would then draw the legislative district lines based on standards delineated in the Virginia Constitution.
The Moran proposal is identical to the one he introduced last year—and to the one the Speaker introduced before he became a member of the House majority.