I want to open this column by thanking you for giving me the opportunity to represent you in Richmond again. We had a lot at stake in this year’s elections, and Northern Virginia proved to the rest of the Commonwealth that we want to keep moving Virginia forward. The campaign season has been an epic adventure for the candidates and Governor McAuliffe. There has been unprecedented spending, tireless fundraising, fact and fiction, and yet most eligible voters chose not to participate. I truly believe we have not seen anything yet as we look ahead to 2016.
What To Expect Next Session
It is no state secret, Virginians want to work and raise their families in the best possible circumstances. Our children deserve a world-class education – one that will make them globally competitive as they replace us in the workforce. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues and the Governor to meet lofty goals while keeping our colleges and universities affordable for those seeking the degrees and skillset needed for the jobs of the future. Improving our schools is crucial if we want to continue to grow and diversify Virginia’s economy.
Healthcare remains a huge issue. Hospitals receiving federal funding must treat every patient that comes to their emergency room door. However, the funding they receive is no match for the true cost of emergency room care. Consequently, those of us with insurance have seen premiums rise significantly over the past decade. In southwest Virginia, where charity care is often the only healthcare people have access to, a hospital has closed – taking with it many jobs from an already depressed economy. Since its passage, the Affordable Care Act has made inroads to bringing more people into preventive and well care. The issue will once again be brought to the forefront as the biennial budget is crafted.
Recently, I met with a group of parents of aging disabled children. Most of them shared their concerns about millennial children that have extensive special needs, and are on a long waiting list for a disability waiver. These parents are concerned about where their 20-something year olds will live when they can no longer care for them in their homes. They have huge out of pocket expenses for assistive caregivers, sedation dentistry, and have seen cuts in respite care hours that provide some relieve for them. We are well behind meeting their future housing needs, and the Justice Department is moving forward on closing our training center institutions. Sympathy only goes so far. It’s time to get on a better path for meeting the needs of these most vulnerable citizens.
Now let’s talk a little about transportation. Not only is business impacted by lost productivity, our quality of life is affective every minute we sit in gridlock in our region. We are overdue at ensuring the integrity of our infrastructure as well as get people and goods moving more efficiently in the Commonwealth. I remain amazed by how much misinformation has been circulated about the I-66 project(s). Let me tell you something about this important corridor. If, like in the past, you have other passengers in your car, you will not have to pay to use I-66 during rush hour. Additionally, these proposed tolls will be an option for solo drivers that elect to use I 66 during the expanded rush hours. Like the express lanes on 495, tolls will be adjusted to match the demand and keep people moving at a minimum speed. Many of the proposals are meant to get the Commonwealth in compliance with Federal regulations. I fully expect this to be a very hot topic in the upcoming session.
Again, thank you for your support and vote. Representing our community is an honor and a privilege, and I promise that I will do all I can to keep improving Northern Virginia and the rest of the Commonwealth.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]