With Thanksgiving behind us, we are now in the throws of the holiday season. I am sending along my sincere good wishes for happy holidays. At the same time, the legislature is getting ready to return to Richmond for the opening of the General Assembly on January 14, 2015. All 140 seats in the legislature are up for re-election next November. If history repeats itself, this will be a session filled with bills meant to position legislators for re-election.
Looming before us is a $2.4B shortfall from FY2014 through FY2016. We have already begun to address the gap in FY 2014 and FY 2015 but are not out of the woods with this fiscal year. While we have reduced spending in any number of areas, funding for Pre-K through 12 has withstood the first round of planned reductions. Without any significant revenue growth, it appears every area of the budget will be subject to intense scrutiny in order to fill the revenue hole.
Governor McAuliffe will present his spending plan on December 17 to both Chambers. The bottom line is constant – the biennial budget must be balanced. As a long serving member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will keep you informed about the process as we work our way through the session. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget, Wednesday, January 7, 2105 at the GMU Manassas Campus, Hylton Performing Arts Center, Gregory Family Theater.
One of my top priorities for the session will be to address the issue of sexual assault on our college campuses. By now most of you have read and heard about the story published in The Rolling Stone. I have been working on legislation to ensure the safety of all students at our institutions of higher learning. The message is clear – we will not tolerate any sexual assaults on any sector of the collegiate population. I appreciate the outpouring of support on this initiative that I have received since appearing at the Falls Church Council meeting on November 24.
Ethics reform will again be on the front burner for legislative action. Recommendations from the Commission on Integrity and Confidence in State Government have been presented to the Governor. One recommendation would cap gifts of “food” and travel at $250. For the most part I do not have a problem with tighter reins over gifts for legislators. What I fear is the chilling effect of limiting legislators and groups from getting together in a social environment to enhance their working relationships. We already see the negative effects polarization has had across the River. That mentality has crept into the Capital now – could that possibly be one of the reasons we are still in a special session as late as a month prior to the opening of the General Assembly?
Again, I send my best wishes for a joyous holiday season. Please consider using our small businesses to assist you in your gift giving needs. Best wishes for a healthy and Happy New Year.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]