The $422 million surplus over expectations in the $20 billion Virginia state budget reflects a combination of a mild economic recovery here, in spite of federal government spending cuts, but also the aggressive pro-business efforts of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Falls Church’s State Senator Richard Saslaw told the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce here Tuesday.
Saslaw, the veteran Democrats’ leader in the state senate, and State Del. Marcus Simon, completing his first term, provided a comprehensive briefing to the Chamber members present, and noted that despite a lopsided Republican control of the State House of Delegates and marginal control of the State Senate, McAuliffe’s aggressive pro-business efforts and sharp veto pen have put the state in a better place than when he took office 17 months ago.
“This governor has done more in 17 months to bring new business to Virginia than the last three governors combined have been able to do,” Saslaw said of McAuliffe’s seemingly tireless efforts to bring new commerce here.
“He works 24 hours a day,” Saslaw mused. “He fell off a horse he was riding on a business trip to Africa, and didn’t realize until he got back and was making business deal-related phone calls that he had a pain in the side that turned out to be seven cracked ribs. He went in the hospital for surgery that night and he started sending out e-mails from his hospital bed at four in the morning.”
“There’s nobody that he doesn’t know, and his attitude is that ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’” Saslaw quipped.
Del. Simon noted that further evidence the overall economy in Virginia is on the uptick is the news that recordation taxes associated with real estate sales are up.
The $422 million surplus has allowed the state to provide two percent pay increases for state employees, their first raise in years.
But a lot of what Gov. McAuliffe has done has been to veto 17 bills like ones making it legal to have machine guns, grenade launchers, bazookas and flamethrowers licensed automatically if the state does not call an application into question within 60 days.
Other vetoes were of bills that required a photo ID to be mailed in with an application for an absentee ballot, to carry a loaded shotgun in a car, and to make it legal to carry brass knuckles and ninja throwing stars.
One pro-small business law that was signed makes “crowdfunding” of small enterprises easier.
Simon said that one of the 173 bills (out of a total of 2,775 bills filed during the session that ran from January through February) that he carried or co-sponsored to add protections for gender and sexual orientation to the state’s fair housing laws came within a single vote of passing the Senate.
New laws passed and signed by the governor will become law on July 1. One will make it legal for a woman to breastfeed in public. Another will require transportation network organizations, like the one that operates Uber, to meet certain standards, including to require drivers to have insurance to cover passengers. One that Saslaw said he was disappointed did not pass dealt with legalized gaming. He noted that the developers of the MGM Grand and other National Harbor entities across the Potomac in Maryland have been quoted saying they expect to get 60 percent of their taxable revenues from Northern Virginia residents.
He said the deal that was struck with Maryland to permit the National Harbor gaming is based on paying 56 percent of gross revenues from slot machines and 32 percent of gross revenues from table games.
Saslaw said he’s optimistic that Democrats can pick up the two new seats in the state senate in this November’s general election when all senate and delegate seats in the Commonwealth will be on the ballot. Two new Democratic senators are required to give them a majority in that chamber, in which case Saslaw will again become the Senate majority leader.