2013 proved to be a very exciting year with a Democratic sweep of the three statewide offices setting the stage for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Governor McDonald will finish his term when Terry McAuliffe is sworn in as the 72nd Governor of Virginia at noon on Saturday, January 11. I look forward to seeing many of you in Richmond for this special occasion.
What lies ahead during the General Assembly? No doubt we will see a plethora of bills ranging from Virginia’s attempt at ethic and campaign finance reform; mental health funding and reform; SOL reform; establishing priorities for transportation spending; tax credits for renewable energy; gun safety and many more issues. Job creation and economic growth remain top priorities for the incoming Governor and the Legislature. We will spend 60 days in Richmond trying to hammer out a biennial budget. As you know, unlike the federal government, our Constitution requires a balanced spending plan.
Despite a slight reprieve from the Federal Government’s belt tightening, Virginia more than any other state in the nation stands to be impacted the most in the coming year. Without question, the lingering effect of the shutdown and the threat of sequestration have hurt our economy and will generate much debate as we go through the budget process. An additional, critical impact on the budget will be the end of extended unemployment benefits for unemployed Virginians.
Another major unresolved issue is the expansion of Medicaid to thousands of working Virginians caught in the “dark hole” between low income and affordable health care. The window is closing for the Commonwealth to receive its federal funding. Regardless of what we do, that money will be spent – in other states. It is estimated some 30,000 jobs in the Commonwealth are at stake as well. It is my understanding there will be a bill introduced to establish a Virginia exchange. We will see how far that gets in the legislature.
I continue to be concerned about the steady reduction of funding for public education. Our colleges and universities are operating at state funding levels similar to 2005. This comes despite a steady growth trend at most of these same facilities. Is there any doubt why there is a need for out-of-state students to make up the difference with higher tuition? I suspect many of you know of a highly qualified Virginia student that was not able to get into a state-supported school. I personally do not believe capping the number of out-of-state students is the right way to go. Look to our community college system to be another resource for training the workforce of the future. It continues to grow exponentially.
You may have read or heard about the proposed budget submitted by outgoing Governor McDonnell. In it some $35M was cut from public education – money that went toward textbooks. I recognize that there is a movement toward online texts, however, we are not at a point where every student has a laptop or access to internet in their homes. It appears we are trying to prepare our kids for jobs of the future by handicapping them. In my opinion, it’s time to stop the bloodletting in public education.
Let’s keep in touch during this year’s legislative session. I ask you to take a few minutes to visit my website, complete my online survey (www.dicksaslaw.com/survey2014) for the upcoming General Assembly and sign up for my email newsletters during the session. Be sure to stop by the office when you are in Richmond. We can also arrange tours of the recently renovated Capitol. My office will assist educators with learning materials and can make room reservations for school trips. I look forward to leading the fight for Virginia’s working families with sound public policy and fiscal responsibility. Best wishes to you and your family in 2014.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]