We’ve just wrapped up the 2010 legislative session. I’ve had two weeks to step back and assess what we accomplished for Virginians. One hundred Delegates, forty Senators and hundreds of staff launched the 2010 session in January.
Many bright and motivated people worked extremely hard: 4363 pieces of legislation were drafted- third highest total ever-2964 bills and joint resolutions were introduced and 1541 were passed.
Did Virginians get their money’s worth? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Many bills passed that have small, incremental impacts–good or bad, depending on your perspective. Conservationists like support for mitigating storm water run-off. The NRA likes the freedom to carry “secured” guns on boats and in cars. Ethics legislation increases transparency a bit, but will not end conflicts of interest. And, both parties like tax credits for jobs creation: green jobs; motion picture production jobs; and, jobs at “major facilities”. These are a few of hundreds of bills passed. I agree that many have merit.
My overriding concern, though, is: Where is the leadership on the big issues? Transportation? Aid to education? Medicaid, social services, workforce development? We did not deal with transportation funding. We cut education funding from pre-school through higher education; defeated measures to support retraining programs; and, we continued shrinking education, family and health care services many low income Virginians need for a chance to join the middle class.
Does it make sense to allow congestion to strangle the Northern Virginia economic engine? Does it make sense for Virginia-sixth wealthiest state among the lower 48-to be ranked 36th in Medicaid spending per covered child? Does it make sense–even with $100 million in Federal stimulus grants-to cut our excellent university and community college system?
Virginia’s current revenue sources do not produce enough revenue to fund services vital to the quality of life Virginians expect, deserve and can afford. Our “balanced” budget this year depended on hundreds of millions in “one time” sources. Virginia’s tax code is 20 years behind the times. Our tax rate structure is neither fair nor equitable for lower and middle income Virginians, who pay a larger percentage of total income in taxes and fees than the upper middle class and wealthy.
Republicans understand the need for more revenue. They responded with increased fines and fees for courts, speeding tickets and other violations. These increases do not replace lost tax revenues. The “ripple effect” of Richmond’s funding cuts forces local jurisdictions, public schools, colleges, universities, and health care providers to increase their taxes and/or fees. The Legislature proclaims “no new taxes,” while masking its accountability for the regressive effects on the middle class and working people.
There’s no easy solution to our structural revenue constraints. Republicans are locked in a “no new taxes” stance, because “we have too much government.” But “government” is not what most tax dollars are spent on. We invest in roads, higher education, public schools, the environment, state police, courts, correctional facilities and other services that directly contribute to quality of life. Why should these uses of tax dollars be partisan?
We need to suspend the acrimony in our partisanship and “get real” about structural changes in the tax code. We need to increase equity and efficiency, while providing adequate funding for the priorities we agree on. Democrats must “walk the talk,” by demanding efficiency, transparency and accountability from all Commonwealth funded programs, including VDOT and other agencies, local governments, school districts and higher education.
Democrats are anxious for this dialogue. Republicans could maintain the spirit of their tax pledges working for a fairer tax code that increases revenues while minimizing the number of households that pay higher taxes. Unfortunately, Republicans willing to discuss these approaches seem to get primary challenges.
Governor McDonnell is considering a special session on Transportation. I applaud this initiative, with a caveat. Without considering new revenue sources, talking about transportation is a waste of time. For me, the 1541 bills passed this year don’t offer much consolation for our failure to address quality of life issues that will define our legacy to our children.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].