Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

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Last week’s veto session brought a record number of Governor’s Amendments to the budget.

Interestingly enough, a number of them were defeated in the Republican House of Delegates, most notably those that would have taken TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) funding away from safety net programs like Healthy Families, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the work of community action agencies. Because the House votes first on the budget, the Senate didn’t get to vote on these amendments; we were disappointed because we wanted to vote against them too.

The House also restored funding to the state parks, an important move for tourism. Last year over 8 million people visited our state parks, a record, and this is also the 75th anniversary of our state parks. As gasoline gets more expensive, more people are planning vacations closer to home and our state parks offer beauty, boating, hiking, cabins and camping at bargain rates. In the Senate we were able to restore funding we had allocated for our natural heritage program. Due to inadequate staffing, several of our natural area preserves have been closed to the public and there is not even any staff to provide protection to these sensitive areas.

The Governor tried to get more power by offering an amendment that would give him, not the General Assembly, the power to appropriate year-end balances. The Senate wasn’t too wild about that idea, as you can imagine.

Several of his “budget” amendments tried again on bills he had introduced in the regular session that had been defeated. One I was particularly disappointed about was the requirement that the Governor be represented on the Metro Board. For forty years our riders and our local governments have supported and been involved in the governance of Metro, with some formula transit assistance from the state. This year for the first time the state has put in special matching funding for the capital maintenance program and thinks that entitles them to supplant a local government official on the Board. It was distressing that such an end run would happen when the Board, with the active involvement of the Governors and Mayor, are currently engaged in a review of Metro governance.

A budget amendment introduced by the Governor in his original budget was $1 million for OpSail, the tall ships event in Hampton Roads. When the project was not included in the General Assembly’s revisions, the Governor decided to introduce it again at the veto session as an “international tourism event.” This time it made it through. Try, try again seemed to be the motto, and some of the time it worked.

One that didn’t succeed was his effort to remove $1.6 million from educational TV. Too many legislators know the value of this programming in their communities that includes content related to the SOLs, technology training for teachers and internet safety training for children.

 


Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]