Delegate Keam's article published in Fairfax County Times
Tuesday March 30, 2010
Mark Keam: Reflections on the 2010 General Assembly session On March 14, the General Assembly adjourned after approving about 850 bills during the 61-day session. The most important bill was the budget for the 2010-2012 biennium.
It was certainly challenging to balance a budget that would fill a $4.5 billion shortfall over the next two years based on reduced revenues and the anticipated gap when federal stimulus funds run out for enhanced Medicaid match program. While the final budget is nowhere near perfect, I believe it had improved from the earlier House version that had draconian cuts to education and safety net programs and made major structural reforms in the way some programs are funded.
After negotiations, the bipartisan and bicameral conferees came back with a product that I thought was as good as it could be under the circumstances. I voted for the final budget because it included no new general tax increases while adequately funding what I believe are the core functions of state government. Specifically, I believe Fairfax County schools received a fair shake in the process.
In December, outgoing Gov. Tim Kaine (D) had proposed a misguided cost-saving idea to "freeze" the Local Composite Index to data from two years earlier. This would have resulted in Fairfax County's share of school funding remaining at a higher rate based on outdated statistics that reflect higher real estate and income levels.
The LCI freeze issue was a bright line test for me as it would have meant an unprecedented loss of about $61 million in state funding for Fairfax schools. I introduced a bill to fix the formula, and I joined other lawmakers from Northern Virginia in seeking budget amendments to reverse this proposal.
Fortunately, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the appropriators all agreed with my colleagues and provided the full amount due to Fairfax schools.
The budget also included $50 million for the governor's "Jobs & Opportunity Agenda" which included my bipartisan "Green Jobs" tax credit bill. I am proud to have passed this significant clean energy job creation bill in my first year.
We also passed several economic development bills to expand the base of revenues for future budgets. I cosponsored many of these bills, such as providing entrepreneurs capital gains tax exclusion for investing in early stage science and technology companies and establishing a biotechnology research performance grant program.
As a new delegate, I had a very rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience during two months in Richmond. I found that most members truly want to get things done for their constituents, and have a sincere attitude about public service. And most delegates reached out to help a freshman learn the ropes.
There were certainly times when committee and floor debates were heated and unnecessarily sharp in tone, and partisan interests sometimes trumped policy. And like in any organization, there are work horses and show horses. But my experience has shown that these unpleasant aspects of politics were the exceptions and not the rule in Richmond.
I look forward to returning on April 21 for the "veto session."
Del. Mark L. Keam (D) represents the 35th District in the Virginia House of Delegates.