The most pressing issue facing the Commonwealth in the 2015 legislative session beginning next Wednesday, Jan. 14, is to deal with the ongoing revenue shortfall in the Virginia budget. Our revenue shortfall is largely attributable to drastically reduced Federal spending in Virginia resulting from sequestration and related cuts. These cuts reduce Virginia private sector employment directly and state and local government employment and spending indirectly. This trend is continuing in Virginia despite robust turnaround and growth in other regions of the country. It is probably impolite of me to point out that these circumstances undercut the prior political claims of Republicans and Democrats alike that their visionary policies were responsible for Virginia’s robust economic development over the past 15 years.
If ever there was a time for ideologues on both sides of the aisle to “get real” on economic issues, now is that time. I intend to focus my efforts during the session on pressing for pragmatic, fiscally responsible solutions that produce tangible offsets to the fiscal pressures we are facing. The most significant single positive step we should take is, finally, to acknowledge the reality that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. By accepting Medicaid expansion under the ACA, the legislature would be acting to increase revenues to the Commonwealth by $5 million per day! Some fraction of this amount would offset Virginia General Fund expenditures directly. Most of this total would flow through to employment in the Virginia health care sector; and, BTW, 400,000 uninsured working Virginians would benefit from access to health insurance. What coherent, principled argument can possibly be made that legislators responsible to all Virginians – not just the wealthy, the privileged and the tea party – should continue to reject the return to Virginia of funds that our taxpayers have already paid to the IRS!! [Please forgive the excessive punctuation.] Many Chamber of Commerce members and the large majority of public and private health care professionals continue to urge the legislature to find a way to accept these funds. This is my priority number one.
I have also introduced common sense legislation that is both good public policy and would lead to tangible reduction of spending in the criminal justice sector: decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. Without question, the tide has turned at a national level against lengthy incarceration for non-violent drug-related offenses. Today, there is virtually universal acknowledgement of the disparate impact on African American and Hispanic communities of current drug law enforcement practices. For most non-violent offenders, lengthy prison sentences for drug law violations are an expensive and ineffective approach to dealing with social problems that lead to these behaviors. Nationally, the trend is clear. Marijuana will be available legally in more places and in more forms. This change will certainly impact Virginia, but with the composition of the current General Assembly, any move toward legalization would be DOA. My legislation is not legalization. Rather it seeks to reduce the role of courts and prisons in dealing with drug problems. Virginia should be a leader in this national process, rather than a laggard.
I will also support efforts to extend in-state tuition benefits to undocumented Virginia residents who qualify as “Dreamers” under President Obama’s DACA order. The current immigration policy debate in Washington is mostly a litmus test for “crazy.” Despite the most aggressive, onerous and effective immigration enforcement efforts by any President ever, Republicans continue to seek political advantage by inciting Americans with the claim that President Obama is giving America away to the foreign criminals among us. On this issue, the right has taken leave of its senses even more than on climate change denial. The logistics and economics of deportation obviously don’t work. Among our 11 million undocumented residents are millions who are and/or will be parents of millions of American citizens; millions who are paying billions in taxes; hundreds of thousands who will become successful entrepreneurs/job creators; and so on. We can either deal with it or bury our heads in the sand. I prefer the light.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]