Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

saslaw-fcnpSummer is right around the corner. VDOT recently sent out a report stating that it has filled some 79,000+ potholes in the Northern VA region. Does that tell you what kind of winter we had? Some of you may have noticed that work has begun on extending the north shoulder exit from the HOT lanes. While this won’t be a panacea to solving all of the merging gridlock, it is a step in the right direction. I would like to remind drivers that HOT lanes have rules with consequences. Repeated offenders are being prosecuted.

As we go to press today, there is little to report on the progress of the budget negotiations. July 1 starts the new fiscal year. Secretary of Finance Ric Brown recently reported a projected $300 million shortfall in revenue for the current fiscal year. Non withholding tax receipts are down, therefore spending expectations will need to be recalibrated for the new biennial budget. It is anticipated that the shortfall in the current fiscal year will ripple through the biennial budget currently under development with an anticipated shortfall of over $1.3 billion. As the House Leadership continues to just say “no,” the deadline for a new spending plan is fast approaching. They have not put out any ideas to resolve the impasse but rather continue to keep the hospitals operating in the red providing emergency room care for the uninsured.

Nearly every media outlet in the Commonwealth has expressed support for Medicaid expansion. Overwhelmingly constituents in Senate District 35 also think this is not only morally correct, but fiscally prudent. However, the Republican members of the House of Delegates continue to oppose this initiative. I find this incredible because there is a significant component to our budget plan that already addresses healthcare for our poorest citizens. Incidentally, Virginia’s threshold for qualifying for Medicaid is one of the highest in the country. Currently, we are seeing thousands of low wage earners, seniors and veterans falling into the coverage gap. Does it make any sense to keep denying access to healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens while leaving millions of Virginia taxpayer dollars on the table at the federal level? Voters trust their elected officials to be prudent stewards of public funds. I don’t know of any successful business that would follow the model being embraced by the House of Delegate Republicans.

Without a budget, our localities will be hard pressed to move forward with their own local budgets. In some parts of the Commonwealth, 80 percent of the school district budget is an appropriation from state government. That is not the case in our region – where the lion’s share of the local budget is used to supplement a world-class education for our children. Additionally, first responders will be hard hit without the state allocation to the localities. Again, this will not be the case in Northern Virginia. Can anyone honestly explain how an elected official can choose not to consider all possible consequences when it comes to the people that put them in office? Make no mistake about it, this is a reflection of the Far Right/Tea Party holding not only the GOP hostage but thousands of hard working Virginians including teachers, deputies and firefighters who may not get a paycheck after July 1 if a budget is not adopted by the House and Senate.

This is the month for graduations and new beginnings. Congratulations and best wishes to our rising seniors in their future endeavors. I hope more will continue their education as a result of the recent Attorney General opinion that allows many immigrant students in-state tuition status at our colleges and universities. This is a big step toward achieving their aspirations in our nation where they have been brought by their parents in search of a better life.

July 1 also is the enactment date for most new legislation that has been passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. Traditionally leading up to the beginning of July, the media will cover the legislative highlights and as soon as we get a budget, I will share the highlights.

Happy Father’s Day to the appropriate male readers. On a personal note, I am pleased to welcome my first grandchild, Vivian, and join the world of grandparents.


Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.