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A National Spotlight Shines on Virginia and Fighting Education Cuts

The Virginia General Assembly has received national attention over the past few weeks.

This past week, the Virginia General Assembly received even more national media attention. None of it related to our budget debate and none of it was good.

Early in the week, the legislature was featured by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That lead to a slew of news stories, negotiations, speeches, and legislative maneuvers. When all the dust was cleared, the so-called “personhood” bill that would ban contraception was continued by the Virginia Senate to 2013 for discussion.

The mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill was amended to require an internal ultrasound only with a woman’s consent, and it was continued to this week for a vote.  Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel pulled her bill after she had second thoughts when she heard from women.  However, the House Bill sponsored by Delegate Kathy Byron is still alive in the State Senate. It was scheduled for a vote Monday of this week, but pushed to Tuesday. It is still not clear whether the Senate will pass it.  The Governor has indicated that he will sign the legislation if it gets to his desk.

Even though the House of Delegates has passed both the transvaginal ultrasound bill and “personhood” bills in the past, the press is finally covering these matters because they could pass in the State Senate. I have received more spontaneous emails (not generated by interest groups) opposing these bills than any measure we have considered since I have been in Richmond. I will continue to oppose these measures whenever I have the opportunity. 

We also debated the House version of the budget this week.  The Senate failed to pass any budget. The House Budget continues to reflect the wrong priorities.  It contains tax exemptions for yacht purchases, a $40 million tax credit for coal production, diverts $20 million for private schools, $8 million in credits for movie productions, and continues a $22 million tax break for the purchase of equipment relating to natural gas fracturing or “fracking.” 

The House proposed to fund secondary education at minimal levels.  In FY 2009, the state was funding secondary education at $5,277 per child.  The proposed House Budget funds secondary education at $4,750 per child for FY 2013.   In 2005, Virginia has the second smallest class sizes in the country – today we are 42nd.  The House Budget does nothing to eliminate Virginia’s 12,000-child subsidized childcare waiting list.  The cuts to Medicaid will push 4,700 elderly Virginians off the Medicaid rolls and out of nursing homes. 

A group I am leading, identified $480 million of tax loopholes and gimmicks in the budget.  If we invested those funds in education alone it would result in Fairfax County receiving over $40 million or enough to pay for over 400 new teachers. 

Part of the reason there is no money for education is because the House Budget diverts $110 million ($50 million per year or the equivalent of a one-penny gas tax per year) from the General Fund and directs it to roads on an ongoing and increasing basis over five years.   This is the wrong way to fund transportation.  

Roads have always been funded separately from schools, public safety, health care and the safety net.  It should stay that way.  Thirty-percent of gas taxes are paid by people who live outside Virginia.  Sales taxes are largely paid by Virginians and income taxes are only paid by Virginians.  Our highways should be funded by users – not only Virginians. 

Moreover, the monies the House Budget and the Governor have proposed are largely a gimmick.  In 2010, the Department of Transportation estimated our annual transportation shortfall to be at least $3.1 to $4.4 billion per year.  The Governor’s Plan funds 1.6% of that in FY2013 and 3.5% of that in FY2014.  We need to have a real discussion about how to solve this problem, and stop wasting time with gimmicks that cause damage to existing programs.

With the Senate deadlocked, it is not clear what will happen next with the budget, but we are all working to try to start a discussion that will lead to a conclusion.  If you have any ideas, please send me an email at scottsurovell@gmail.com.

It is an honor to serve as your delegate.    

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