The General Assembly convened in Richmond for its annual legislative session on January 14. Leading up to the opening gavel, Senators and Delegates were engaged in a series of public hearings, locality and school board presentations, and many meetings with individuals and advocacy groups. This collaboration identifies the priorities for the next 45 days. In addition to necessary legislative initiatives, other critical issues have cropped up and deserve serious attention. For example, this session will deal with tougher ethics laws, health care, public education, and transportation.
The needs of our Commonwealth continue to outpace available funding; however, we cannot just cut our way to prosperity. Instead, our focus must remain on rebuilding our economy so that it works for all Virginians. Sequestration cuts have hit the Commonwealth hard and are hampering our economic growth. As a result, we must try to find new ways to attract good-paying, private sector jobs. It is essential that we establish a foundation for long-term economic success because I want Virginia to be a place that welcomes entrepreneurs, and businesses big and small.
Using the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, the McAuliffe administration continues to make great strides in the area of job creation. Since being sworn in, the Governor has made over 200 job announcements that will bring nearly $5 billion in investments to Virginia. I will keep working to make sure Virginia remains a top business destination so that our economic success is not shackled to federal government budget battles. I favor expanding the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and using it to diversify our economy.
Recently, we have heard many hours of public testimony. Repeatedly, the number-one issue centered around our continued investment in public education. No doubt about it – our children need a world-class education to be competitive in the global economy. In our region, localities largely supplement the cost of educating our kids through their budgets. This is not the case in many of Virginia’s rural communities, where state funding hovers between 70 – 80 percent. However, the average support from state government is about 45 percent of the actual cost of K-12 education.This remains a lingering issue we must address if we want to keep our workforce on the leading edge.
You’ll also see a parallel with funding for higher education – despite the growth in students pursuing a degree. A significant impact is seen at the community college level. A quality public education system is not a luxury, but a necessity as we prepare Virginia students to reach their full potential. I want to make sure that all Virginians have a fair shot at succeeding.
It’s no state secret that many citizens are concerned about the health and human services our Commonwealth can provide. Believe me, there is no shortage of heart-wrenching appeals from families with disabled loved ones. Budget constraints being what they are will force the General Assembly to make tough choices this year, and it’s our responsibility as lawmakers to reach an acceptable consensus that puts Virginia families first.
As usual, the General Assembly will have a lot on its plate this year. It is my hope that this session will be productive and marked by bipartisanship. I will continue fighting for the priorities of Northern Virginia, because I believe what’s good for our region is good for the Commonwealth as a whole.
During this session of the General Assembly I will do my best to keep you updated on the latest news from Richmond. My door is always open to constituents. The fastest way to contact me in Richmond is by email at [email protected] or by phone at 804-698-7535.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]