It’s official, the holiday season is upon us and the countdown to the General Assembly has begun. Recently, I spent the day with newly elected senators who will be sworn in come January. Eight very bright, eager and most likely exhausted men and women will take their seat in the Senate Chamber.
Having just come through the election season in a holding pattern as far as power distribution goes, a new chapter will begin to unfold. Both Caucuses have elected their leaders. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the citizens of the 35th Senate District and am appreciative of the support and confidence of my fellow Democrats to serve as their Leader in the Senate.
While there are clear differences in the new Senate culture, we will be looking to find common ground on the issues that matter most to Virginians. Growing and diversifying the economy and improving infrastructure remain top priorities. And of course, preparing the next generation for the workforce of tomorrow means that we must make appropriate investments in both K-12 and Higher Ed.
A few weeks ago, Senate finance staff provided an insight into all components of the general fund. To begin with, our revenues are beginning to tick up. While we hear about surplus funds, those are mostly earmarked for replacing transfers from budget items (for example the rainy day fund). Weathering the effects of sequestration in the Commonwealth is a daily challenge. Virginia is one of the highest recipients of federal contracting. In the absence of replacing revenues with new jobs, we are seeing a limited recovery. Governor McAuliffe has just returned from another trade mission overseas. There are promising results from that trip.
One of the biggest attractions for luring new business to the Commonwealth is a strong education system for the colleges and universities it feeds into. Northern Virginia offers a world class K-12 school system. Funding for all the extras (above the Standards of Quality) that make it competitive is the key to its top rank. Our localities heavily supplement these costs. State funding is appropriated based on the local composite index – that is the value of taxable real estate and individual income. Because individual income is not taxed by the localities, wealthier localities often land on the short side of the state appropriation for the SOQ funding.
Funding for higher education has remained flat for years with increasing enrollments in our state funded colleges and universities. A skilled workforce is another magnet for businesses to locate in Virginia. Keeping Higher Ed affordable and accessible is essential. Additionally, there is a pent up demand for operational facilities. I expect a bond package to come out of the General Assembly to meet these growing demands.
This December 17, Governor McAuliffe will deliver his proposed biennial budget. The Governor will attempt to direct more revenue into public education as well as our colleges and universities. Of course, the cost of health and human services continues to rise and more people are attempting to enroll in Medicaid. While it is no state secret there is strong Republican opposition to expanding Medicaid, we are leaving millions of Virginia tax dollars on the proverbial federal table. Oddly enough, rural hospitals are operating in the red to provide charity care for Virginians in need of healthcare. Virginia is one of the top ten richest states per capita. And yet, we are delivering healthcare to thousands through the same method you see in third world countries – through annual events with volunteers providing services often in the stables on fair grounds.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve our district. I hope to see you in Richmond during the assembly and will let you know when we will be hosting our local town halls. Feel free to contact my office for arranging tours as well as reserving meeting rooms for your group trips to the Capital.
I would like to extend season’s greetings to you all. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]