Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

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The General Assembly begins its legislative work on Wednesday, January 11. The Senate Democrats will continue their commitment to sound public policy and fiscal responsibility.

As of this writing, the most pressing issue at hand in the Senate of Virginia is the matter of the chamber’s organization and power structure. In my opinion, with an evenly divided elected body, there is no justifiable mandate for heavy handedness on the part of the Republican Caucus. This was not the case in 1996, when an evenly divided Senate shared power. Let’s hope the partisanship of the fall campaigns can be left at the door when we began the people’s work.

This session will be dominated with crafting of the Commonwealth’s biennial budget. Governor McDonald has presented his version of the two – year document calling for additional reductions in state agencies and the programs they administer. I believe there is cause for great concern and will lead the fight to keep Virginia moving in a positive direction without harm to its citizens.

To put it in perspective, we are currently operating the state with a funding level we saw back in 2007. This comes after significant cuts, accelerated corporate tax returns, heavy borrowing from the VRS, as well as an infusion of federal dollars aimed at providing an economic stimulus. While I understand the Governor’s enthusiasm to cite a budget surplus, in reality the bottom line is very fragile. There has not been an increased source of revenue for transportation since 1986 when then Governor Baliles raised the gasoline tax to 17.5cents/a gallon. Governor McDonnell has proposed taking money from the General Fund to help meet the vast maintenance needs of our aging infrastructure. How will this affect you directly? Let me briefly explain what the General Fund is and the areas for which it provides.

Funding for the state budget is directed two “money pots” – the General Fund and the Non-General Fund. Revenue for the General Fund (GF) comes from the collection of personal income tax, the state sales tax, corporate income tax and some grant monies. The Non-General Fund is state revenue derived from predominantly the gasoline tax, federal highway money, college tuitions etc. It (NGF) is money specifically dedicated and the General Assembly cannot make cuts to it. The GF on the other hand has the most flexibility for reducing expenses. The lion’s share of (GF) funding covers public education; health & human services; public safety; higher education; aid to localities.

As our national economic recovery slowly creeps along, the revenue forecast calls for small but steady growth. We will be looking at a modest increase in jobs and individual spending power as well as a decrease in federal dollars in terms of further economic stimuli. Facing the reality of the desperate need to fund transportation and reduced federal monies, the Governor wants to raid the General Fund. Simply put, that means fewer dollars for public education, public safety and our most vulnerable citizens. As far as I am concerned, this is not a choice that should even be on the table.

Each year we see thousands of bills introduced for the legislature’s consideration. Under my leadership for the past four years, the Senate has kept in check some of the most extreme social legislation passed out of the Republican House of Delegates. This included repealing the one gun a month restriction in VA; the ban on carry loaded weapons on the campuses of our colleges and universities; various restrictive measures infringing on a woman’s right to Choose; prayer in public schools; Virginia manufacturing regulations taking precedence over federal laws. These are just a few of a plethora of bills that will be re-introduced as well as a number of others such as the personhood bill and the criminalization of embryonic stem cell research.

It is a pleasure and privilege to represent the citizens of the 35th Senate District. You are a very informed group of citizen advocates. I welcome your continued input and look forward to seeing you at our town hall meetings.

 


Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be e-mailed at [email protected]