Delegate Keam quoted in Fairfax County Times about his Veterans bill
2011 General Assembly session again will be budget-driven
Fairfax County legislators hope for progress on transit, education funding
Although Virginia's budget picture is looking brighter for 2011 than the past few years, Fairfax County legislators expect to remain focused on fiscal matters when the General Assembly session convenes later this month.
Legislators will consider a number of amendments to the state's biennial budget -- including the $37.3 billion fiscal 2011 operating budget and $37.7 billion fiscal 2012 operating budget -- when the session begins Jan. 12, including those proposed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
Last month, McDonnell (R) proposed increasing funding for education, job creation initiatives and transportation while continuing to cut spending in other areas of state government.
His more than $190 million in proposed cuts and savings include eliminating funding for public radio and television stations, refinancing bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates, eliminating some vacant positions, and expanding the use of managed care in the state's Medicaid program.
According to McDonnell's office, the governor wants to put $54 million into economic development efforts, including a $25 million research fund and $3 million for non-credit career training courses at the state's community colleges.
The $50 million McDonnell wants to put into higher education is aimed at making college more affordable, he said. McDonnell also is anticipating an additional $59 million for primary and secondary education, based on increased sales tax revenues.
"I think we'll spend a lot of time debating the governor's amendments," said Del. Thomas Rust (R-Dist. 86) of Herndon. "They're all using existing funds and taking money from one area and putting it into another."
While state revenues are on the rise, there is not funding to restore most of the cuts made in recent years, nor is there money available for new initiatives. The lack of funds means many new legislative initiatives will fall by the wayside, said Del. David Albo (R-Dist. 42) of Springfield.
"Anything that costs a dollar bill will most likely be killed," he said.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean local legislators are giving up on longer-term initiatives. For example, Mount Vernon-area Del. Scott Surovell (D-Dist. 44) is introducing a bill that would create a study of how to fund improvements to Route 1, which is a top priority for his district.
Transportation and education funding remain the top priorities for Fairfax County's delegation, in terms of protecting existing funds and locating additional sources of revenue.
Fairfax Del. David Bulova (D-Dist. 37) said he will keep an eye out for changes to funding formulas -- such as those that help fund local school districts -- that could have an adverse impact on Northern Virginia.
"We had several close calls last year," he said. "While the economy is getting a bit better, I think we all need to be on our toes."
McDonnell's proposal to pump $4 billion into transportation during the next three years -- primarily by issuing new bonds -- is likely to generate ample debate, lawmakers said. The governor has said the driving force behind his proposal is that the economic climate is creating bargain basement prices for road-building and paving contracts.
However, the idea of taking on more debt than Virginia historically has done doesn't sit well with some legislators. State Sen. David Marsden (D-Dist. 37) of Burke said that in addition to opposing McDonnell's plan, he is supporting a proposal to make Virginia's informal 5 percent debt ceiling into a law.
"To go into debt just because there's a bargain is a little bit like going to the store and maxing out your credit card just because there's a good deal on something," Marsden said.
Albo and Bulova are trying a different tactic by reintroducing a transportation bill that passed the House of Delegates last year but died in the Senate. Their proposal would link road maintenance funding to a need assessment based on performance standards, rather than dividing it between transportation districts.
Although the likely end result would be more money for Northern Virginia, Albo said it is hard for anyone to argue against prioritizing spending based on actual need.
Vienna Del. Mark Keam (D-Dist. 35) said he will introduce a bill to help veterans to find work by translating their military training to equivalent experience for state positions.