Currently viewing the tag: "Budget"
Finally – A Budget

Special Session on Budget ended with $85 billion two year spending plan, but no plan for transportation 

After a series of last-minute machinations, the General Assembly approved a two-year budget on April 18, 2012. The $85 billion, two-year budget took an additional 39 days to approve and ended speculation about a possible state government shutdown.

Most observers, myself included, never believed that we would come close to a shutdown and viewed this as a specter raised largely by Republicans to avoid discussing the real issues in the budget: education, adequate funding for the social safety net, and transportation.

When Governor McDonnell’s budget was initially proposed in December, it shortchanged K-12 education, the social safety net, and transportation. Albemarle and Charlottesville City schools would have faced serious shortfalls in their funding, and those most vulnerable would have been affected by draconian cuts in the McDonnell budget. The Governor’s only plan for transportation was to take monies from public education, mental health and public safety.  This was unacceptable.  Largely because of Democratic efforts, the initial House budget passed in March was far superior to the one proposed by McDonnell.  Nonetheless, it was still inadequate and was, therefore, rejected by the Senate. You can view my comments on the initial House budget during floor debate here.

After a series of negotiations, monies diverted from education, mental health, and public safety to fund transportation were restored to the budget.  Additional monies were also found for what is called “cost-to-compete” in Northern Virginia localities, which would allow them to recruit and retain teachers and other critical public employees.

Senate Democrats continued to exert pressure for transportation funding for projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.  The Governor agreed to provide an additional $100 million to delay tolls on various tunnel and bridge projects for two years. The Governor, however, was not willing to advance additional monies for the Dulles rail project, where tolls are even higher.  This prompted Democrats in the Senate to initially reject the new budget.  The votes were tied until Senator Chuck Colgan, a Democrat from Prince William County, decided to vote with the Republicans in order to obtain a budget.

You can view my comments on the budget conference report proposal here.

During the debate in the Senate, the Route 29 bypass was mentioned several times, though there was no serious effort to move money from that project to the Dulles rail project. I had initially proposed taking some money from a project in Suffolk to fund Dulles rail, but the Route 29 bypass was never discussed in any of the House debates.

Democratic advocacy in the House made the final budget much better than the one proposed in January. We were able to secure substantially more money for K-12 education, a fact that will greatly help schools in Charlottesville and Albemarle. We secured an additional $45 million to provide the service and care to those who are unable to care for themselves through no fault of their own.

Democrats also succeeded in creating an Advanced Manufacturing Fund so that more jobs, especially in economically disadvantaged regions of the state, could be created.  Funding for the Commonwealth Research and Commercialization Fund was restored.   We successfully argued for the capitalization of Virginia Housing Trust Fund, and to close the so-called “Amazon Tax Loophole” (see my statement on the Amazon issue here).

The Governor still has an opportunity to modify the budget, which we will consider again in early May.  With the exception of that meeting, our legislative sessions are now completed for the year.  I will now be devoting my time to constituent service for this district, and will continue my role as House Democratic Leader.

Your support has been important to me throughout this year where the demands of my time have been even greater in this new leadership role.  I am honored to represent you and appreciate your input and support.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends an update from the veto session at the General Assembly.

On the 18th day of April, about six weeks after the procedural resolution called for the passage of a budget, Virginia’s General Assembly, together for a Veto Session, finally passed a budget. There is much in the budget to like, some items not to like, and signs for the future that are very worrisome.

The Good

By holding out for a better budget, Senate Democrats achieved a great deal in the final budget.  Nearly $45 million was added over the biennium for health and human services. This includes $4.8 million to preserve the healthcare safety net, $6 million to continue long term Medicaid eligibility for 1,500 elderly and disabled individuals in nursing homes, $11.6 million to add 225 Medicaid waivers slots, and $1.6 million to add mentally disabled waiver spots. We also added $69 million for Medicaid payments to nursing homes and hospitals to offset inflation costs, nearly $11 million dollars to increase Medicaid personal care and congregate care rates, and over $3 million to expand children’s mental health services. To pay for some of this, we identified nearly $79 million in savings from a combination of earned federal Medicaid bonuses.

We added about $215 million for public education over the budget as introduced. About $110 million of that amount provides additional assistance for retirement, inflation and prekindergarten costs. Over $47 million was added to update funding for K-3 class size reduction and nearly $7 million, for a correction to career and technical education funding.

Over $122 million was added for higher education institutions for base operations, enrollment incentives and initiatives over the biennium. Included in that amount is almost $43 million for enrollment incentives for new slots at the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech and James Madison University. We also included $18.5 million for higher education undergraduate and graduate student financial aid and $6 million for cancer research at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University. The budget also provides a salary bonus for faculty members of higher education institutions in December 2012 and August 2013, contingent upon revenue meeting our current projections.

The budget also includes nearly $88 million for the water quality improvement fund to meet the state’s commitment to upgrade 57 local and regional waste water treatment plants in order to meet water quality goals. The housing trust fund is capitalized to the tune of $7 million to help provide permanent solutions for homeless individuals. The budget provides $4.5 million for Civil War battlefield preservation and $4.1 million in restorations to the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

State employees are slated to receive a three percent bonus in December 2012 and a two percent bonus in August 2013, contingent on revenue projections remaining at the currently projected level. The budget funds 61 district clerk court positions and 23 judgeships statewide.

In sum, the majority of what was sought through the budget negotiations was obtained.  Important investments in K-12 and higher education are being made, ensuring our ability to continue to build the intellectual infrastructure to support economic growth in the Commonwealth. We made important restorations in funding to preserve the social safety net.

The Bad

The final compromise is far from perfect. There are plenty of budget actions I do not agree with, including elimination of funding for teenage pregnancy prevention programs and public broadcasting. The biggest failure, however, continues to be on transportation.

Any reader faintly familiar with my tenure in public office knows that I have a keen interest in transportation because it is a critical piece of infrastructure necessary to ensure growth and opportunity in every part of the Commonwealth. I fear that a toll-driven transportation system is one that will further balkanize Virginia.  Transportation projects will go forward in those portions of the state where money can be raised through tolls, and economic growth will not occur evenly throughout the Commonwealth. I think that under that type of system, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Frankly economic opportunity in southwest, western and central Virginia is dependent upon our ability as a Commonwealth to fund a 21stCentury transportation system. I know that many of my friends see this issue as one that is primarily important to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, and it is true that those are the fastest growing parts of Virginia and have the most urgent needs. However, 40 percent of Virginia’s bridges and tunnels are structurally deficient, and those faulty bridges and tunnels are not just in Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads. We must be willing to invest in transportation projects throughout Virginia.

We held out as long as we could to try to force a transportation “fix” through the budget process. The development of a long term transportation solution was a long shot this year but it is going to be a long shot any year. Ultimately, we were not successful.  So we will live to fight another year.

Further, many of our budget decisions have placed increased responsibility on local governments.  It is easy for the Commonwealth when we face a mandate from the federal level to complain and blame it on someone else. The truth is Virginia often passes responsibilities on to local government. This year, dramatic changes were made to the Virginia Retirement System. A new hybrid plan was created which will ultimately require an employee contribution greater than the five percent in the current defined benefit plan. Recent and new hires will also see reduced retirement benefits.  Much of the cost of these changes was passed onto local governments.

The Ugly

On the 17th of April, the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, 20 strong, voted against the budget because we were trying to force a transportation solution. The next day one of our members voted for the budget. There has been much thought and some hurtful things that have been said over the days since the budget passed.  Senator Colgan, the lone Democrat who voted for the budget, has given his life to the service of our country and our Commonwealth. He simply did what he thought was right. The other nineteen of us had no idea that he was going to make that decision but in retrospect, we probably should have known. We achieved much of what we wanted in this year’s budget process however big challenges are ahead, as we continue to kick the transportation can down the road.

Virginia had prided itself for decades on fiscal discipline and completing the people’s work on time. To a large degree, we have been the opposite of our federal counterparts in Washington DC, working across party lines to move Virginia forward. Unfortunately, that is changing.  The budget fight this year harkens back to earlier budget fights back in 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2008 that saw extended deadlocks. We could truly be experiencing a new sort of normal in budget negotiations. In my view, this is not a positive development. We need to focus on the big picture, on moving Virginia forward, and on creating opportunity in every corner of the Commonwealth.  The tenor of this session was set on the very first day by the refusal of 20 Republican senators to engage in a power-sharing agreement that reflected the 50-50 representation voted in by the citizens of the Commonwealth. I, for one, do not think Virginia will be better off for the partisan wars to follow.

It is my pleasure to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of assistance, or if you have questions or want to share your views, my legislative office can be reached at (434) 296-5491 or district25@senate.virginia.gov. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Creigh

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

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White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek is holding her Eighth Series  town halls in March.  She posts on her web site details:

Thank you for your confidence to send me back for a second term representing the White Hall district. You are vitally important to success, by sharing your insights about problems and solutions in our community.

Unlike some radio hosts, I believe “Community” is a good word, conveying a sense of caring about neighbors, local business success, our children’s futures and the protection of the environment which helps us to lead healthy lives. None of us is alone on an island; we are all connected to sink or succeed together.

Beginning Tuesday, March 13, I will host three citizens’ town halls.Police Dept officers and school board members will be in attendance. In addition to the budget details, I ask for feedback on any other issues of interest. I will gather topics every 30 minutes to prevent leaving issues unaddressed. Please join me at an upcoming meeting:

  • Tuesday, March 13. Town Hall with Pam Moynihan. Broadus Wood cafeteria. 7 pm.
  • Saturday, March 17. 1 pm. Town Hall with Steve Koleszar at White Hall community Center.
  • Monday, March 19. 7 pm at the Meadows, Crozet Ave. Town Hall with Eric Strucko and Ned Gallaway.

We will discuss the timetable for ordinance changes for rural area businesses such as bed-and-breakfast rooms in outbuildings and food service at farms, as well as changes to county process to “fast-track” applications to help our economic recovery.

There are many other questions. What are your thoughts on cost-recovery billing to insurance companies only for ambulance transport? Should changes be made to ordinances currently allowing burning of household trash in our backyards? Are you concerned about drug use in the school-age population?

Updates will also be provided about upcoming VDOT projects in the White Hall District.

Actions of the General Assembly as the session ends will affect the local budget. State government has passed us the bill to restore funding to the state retirement system by requiring an additional $1.4 M each year from Albemarle County. Sad the Governor did not repay the loan he took from the retirement system, calling it “surplus” and handing out bonuses to state employees.

General reductions in funding for schools, for mental health services as patients are returned to their communities, for maintenance of roads unless matched 50/50 by local funds, and cuts in funding for commonwealth’s attorney, sheriff, and jail budgets will hamper our ability to fund our local future. It is unknown today what the Governor will do as the bills pass and come across his desk.

What is known is that we all can work together. Many of you help me to be well informed about issues of particular interest to you. We will continue to work together to fund the completion of the Historic District application and the furnishings to the Western Albemarle Crozet library.

Thank you all for your assistance.

Read more at Supervisor Mallek’s web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Delegate David Toscano sends his last update from the regular session of the General Assembly in Richmond.

The General Assembly adjourned at 9:28 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, 2012 without a budget. We simply ran out of time. We immediately convened a Special Session to address the budget, which will hopefully occur within the next month. This is the fourth time since 2001 when the General Assembly has not been able to reach agreement on a budget before the session ended. In my first session (2006), we went 100 days into overtime before we passed a budget.

Fortunately, both sides appear close enough that a budget can emerge soon. If you recall from my previous posts, Governor McDonnell’s budget made cuts in the social safety net and shortchanged education. While we were able to argue successfully to restore some of the cuts and to enhance funding for education, the House budget was still inadequate and therefore I could not support it.

Senate Democrats have also argued for additional monies for the social safety net and education. Virginia per pupil spending has been declining in recent years and now is on par with 2007 levels. Teacher salaries have also not kept pace with the national average. In addition, our system of higher education, while likely to receive an increase in this year’s budget, has been neglected for the last decade. Many observers believe that we face substantial budgetary challenges in the coming years and may not be able to maintain our priorities without an influx of revenue.

As the clock wound down for end of session, we considered two initiatives that the Governor had been promoting. The first was his transportation bill, which would have diverted money away from schools to transportation. The Governor’s proposal was soundly rejected, and the resulting bill had little left in it. Transportation funding will remain a challenge for us to address. The second was a major overhaul of VRS, which was presented to us at the last minute. House Democrats objected to voting on a bill so quickly and without the benefit of public input, but the measure was passed nonetheless. I will have a future post on this, and will continue to advocate for positive changes in the bill to protect employees between now and the veto session in April.

In the end, this session is likely to be remembered for the socially divisive bills forced through by conservative Republicans. These bills deflected our attention from critical issues like adequately funding our public schools, creating jobs, and solving our transportation challenges. While the Governor is already claiming several “successes”, they pale by comparison to the challenges that we continue to face in the Commonwealth.

Sincerely,

David

You can signup for Delegate Toscano’s email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends an update to his last newsletter after the General Assembly session adjourned on Saturday:

Update to Sine Die Newsletter

The General Assembly adjourned, sine die, on March 10, without passing a final budget.  The outline of a budget appears to be close, and the General Assembly will reconvene on March 21.  I would expect that a budget will be approved shortly thereafter.  A couple of important measures dealing with VRS and transportation were passed on the last day of the session, and I wanted to provide some up-to-date information.

One of the big issues this session has been the retirement system.  All of the retirement systems, including those for state employees, teachers, local employees, state police and other law enforcement officers, and the judiciary, haveroughly a combined $24 billion unfunded liability.  Experts in public pensions suggest that the accounts have to be 80 percent funded in order to be viable over the long haul.  Our accounts do not meet this benchmark.  This is not a problem that occurred overnight, and we have known for years it needed to be addressed.  The quickest way for us to return the VRS to viability is for the General Assembly to fund the various retirement accounts at the level proposed by the VRS Board of Trustees.  Historically, the General Assembly and the Governor have reduced the contribution below the suggested amount to fund other priorities.  In other words, the contributions have been treated like a credit card.

If the General Assembly began funding the retirement accounts at the VRS Board of Trustees suggested amount this year, we would reduce the unfunded liability to under $18 million in the next decade, and, achieve the 80 percent funding level.  This is exactly what Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) proposed last year in a constitutional amendment that passed the Senate and died in the House of Delegates.  It makes sense for the state to contribute the amount proposed by the Board, which is what we require local governments to do for local employees.  However, we would have to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from other core services to VRS or find additional revenue.

On the final day of session, a small group of legislators reached consensus and came out with a compromise proposal.  A summary of the changes is available at the Senate Finance Committee’swebsite.  For local employees, localities are required to provide a 5 percent pay increase on July 1 of this year.  The raise is to offset the new requirement for local employees to contribute 5 percent into retirement, much like we did with state employees last year.  In addition, employees will have an option to contribute an additional 1%.  If they do, localities will be required to bump their pay up another percent.  Localities will still be required to pay a local share at the level suggested by the VRS Board of Trustees.

There are changes with respect to benefits, though there is an argument that the changes are not significant.  The multiplier is changed from 1.70 to 1.65 for members with less than five years of service as of January 1, 2013 and benefits are based on the last five years of service rather than the last three years.  The bill respecting state employees makes significant changes as well.  All new employees will have a hybrid retirement system.  Four percent of the employee’s contribution goes into a defined benefit plan and 1 percent goes into a defined contribution plan.

I voted against all four conference reports for a number of reasons.  I am concerned that we are imposing on local governments a mandate with an unknown cost.  I asked pointed questions during the briefing about the effect of the plans on retirement benefits and about the cost to local governments and did not receive answers that quieted my concern.  I am also concerned that we are providing a disincentive for people to work in public service.  It is important that we not only maintain trust with those people who are already vested in VRS (and these bills do not affect those people who are vested), but that we provide an incentive for highly qualified and talented people to come to work in public service.  The bottom line is that there were too many unanswered questions for me on all of these bills.

While I am committed as anyone to restoring VRS, the quickest way we can restore the health of the system is to simply pay into the system what the trustees propose.  The problems we presently have with respect to the retirement system did not arise because of mistakes by local governments or their employees.  They arose because the General Assembly and the Governor, over the last number of years, have chosen to underfund the retirement system.  I am convinced that we can find a better way to fix VRS.

One of the other major issues we have continued to ignore in recent years is transportation.  Prior to the session, the Governor proposed shifting additional general fund dollars into transportation.  His plan for transportation also included a proposal to sell the naming rights of our highways, bridges and tunnels.  The House and the Senate came up with different approaches for transportation.  And those proposals were reduced to a conference report, representing the compromise between the two sides.

The House agreed primarily with the Governor and also included language that assured the devolution of responsibility to local governments.  This constitutes a major change in transportation funding in Virginia.  The Senate took a different approach, rejecting the idea that we sell the naming rights of our public infrastructure, and also rejecting the ideas that we shift general fund money from public schools, public health and public safety to transportation.  Rather the Senate, in a bipartisan manner, chose to index the gas tax which would have resulted in about two-tenths of a cent increase in the gas tax over the next year.  Both the House and the Senate views on raising money for transportation were rejected by the conference report.  I voted against the compromise because in the end it only does two things, neither of which I think are good ideas.   First, the conference report requires an unprecedented interaction between the localities and the Commonwealth Transportation Board with respect to local highway planning.  In my view, this sets the stage for the devolution of funding for highway maintenance to local governments.  Few local governments have the ability to raise the money necessary to build or maintain highways.  In my view, this is a step toward a balkanized transportation system.

Second, the conference report allows the selling of naming rights for bridge, tunnels and highways, which the Governor’s office suggested could potentially generate $100 million a year.  I have not seen any evidence to suggest that sort of revenue can be raised by selling the naming rights to our highway infrastructure.  Rather I think the idea is demeaning.  Traditionally, we have named bridges and tunnels for fallen police officers or Medal of Honor winners or other military heroes.  We have named highways after local people or events of significance.  In each case, the naming has historical or geographic significance.  For these reasons, I voted no.  The Lt. Governor served as a tie-breaking vote, so the bill now heads to the Governor for his consideration.

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch as an early review of this year’s General Assembly regular session, which officially ended yesterday.   Of course, Governor McDonnell and the Republican controlled Senate and House failed to adopt a budget or elect judges, so now they’re going into a special session to cater to those “small” details.

A few highlights from their article, 20 reasons the legislative session matters:

Virginia’s unresolved state budget leaves crucial issues in the balance, such as funding for law enforcement, education and transportation. For state workers, the budget could mean a 2 percent pay raise, plus a one-time bonus if senators and the governor get their way. Additional changes to state pension plans also are likely. But aside from the budget, lawmakers left town Saturday after passing hundreds of bills that will affect Virginians on issues from Amazon’s sales taxes to eminent domain to voter ID. Below are the 20 reasons this legislative session mattered.

* Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill that would require a woman to have an ultrasound before she could get an abortion.

*The governor is expected to sign “conscience clause” legislation allowing state-funded private adoption agencies to deny placement services to prospective parents who don’t share their religious beliefs.

*Lawmakers approved compromise legislation worked out by McDonnell’s administration under which online retailer Amazon.com would be required to collect and remit sales taxes in Virginia.

* The state Senate voted down McDonnell’s proposed overhaul of contract procedures for teachers and principals.

* Both houses passed bills to allow tax breaks for businesses that contribute to scholarships for low- and middle-income students to attend private schools.

*This November Virginians will vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment to restrict government takings of private property.

*Legislators carried over until next year efforts to set up a state-run health insurance benefit exchange. Under the federal health-care overhaul, a state must establish its own exchange or the federal government will set up one for residents of the state.

*Lawmakers agreed on a watered down transportation bill. It includes neither the Senate proposal to index the gas tax to rise with inflation, nor McDonnell’s bid, embraced by the House, to divert an additional portion of sales tax revenue to fix roads.

*The House and the Senate have passed bills that would require a voter who shows up at the polls without an ID to cast a provisional ballot.

Read the full article, review what happened with all legislation this year, and then share your thoughts about other important bills that passed or failed during session in the comments.

White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek will host three town halls for constituents in the coming weeks:

  • Tuesday, March 13th, at 7 PM, at Broadus Wood Elementary School
  • Saturday, March 17th, at 1 PM, at the White Hall Community Center
  • Monday, March 19th, at 7 PM, at Crozet Meadows.
According to the Daily Progress:
Mallek is asking for feedback on the county budget and any other issues residents are concerned about. According to a news release, Mallek will gather topics at the start of each meeting.

You can find out more about Supervisor Mallek at her web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends his latest weekly newsletter from the General Assembly Session in Richmond.

With about a week to go before the scheduled adjournment of the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly, there is little satisfaction in knowing we have failed to complete the primary work of the session, pass a budget, and have underachieved in other ways as well.  I have used this space in past weeks to outline some of what I thought were shortcomings with the process this year.  Specifically, I pointed out deficiencies in the budgetary process and the end product last week.  On the first day of the session, the Republicans did not possess a majority, they did not have the votes to pass a budget, elect judges, or pass constitutional amendments.  Nevertheless, they used the Lieutenant Governor to control organization of the Senate and the flow of legislation.  That process resulted in a rigid social focus which detracted us from the real work of rebuilding the economy and putting people to work.  And, the budget it produced underfunds K-12 education and health care, shortchanges localities, and has a number of other deficiencies.  So where do we go from here?

We begin by understanding that historically there has been a difference between the Senate and the House of Delegates.  When all 20 Democrats voted against the budget this year, some people claimed the action irresponsible and unprecedented.  In fact, four years ago when there were 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans, all the Republicans voted against the budget.  That was not seen as unprecedented or obstructionist.  Those 19 people, I would suggest, had reasons for voting against the budget, just as members of our caucus did this time.  In past years, whether Democrats had the majority or Republicans had the majority, we were able to work in a collegial way to get things done in the Senate of Virginia.  The process completely broke down this year and, until some semblance of a working relationship is restored, we will continue to have difficulties.

While I remain hopeful that we will reach a compromise by March 10, the fiscal year does not end until June 30.  In two recent years, 2004 and 2006, a budget was not achieved until the spring of the year.  In fact, in 2006 the budget was not adopted until June 28.  While I would prefer the Senate and House agree to a budget before the scheduled adjournment, a delay is not unprecedented, and there is no need to panic.  I am confident we will be able to approve a budget before the end of the fiscal year.

One of the more important issues that this year’s General Assembly has tried to deal with is the long-term solvency of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).  The retirement accounts for all public employees show about a $24 billion unfunded liability.  How did that occur?  Some will argue that Virginia has underfunded the system.  In fact, historically, contributions to the retirement system constitute less than two percent of the annual state budget, while the average among other states is over three percent.  Yet, retirement systems are coming up short nationwide.  Our system’s unfunded liability was created through a combination of factors, including Virginia’s underfunding of retirement, the General Assembly’s and Governor’s reluctance to fund the retirement system at the level proposed by the Board of Trustees, and the recent economic slump.  Downturns in the market have reduced the holdings of VRS and other retirement systems around the country.  This year the General Assembly has considered a number of measures to try to right the ship over the long haul.

When the session began, we were met with the Governor’s proposal to infuse approximately $2.2 billion in funding in the retirement system over the biennium.  The bulk of new funding for education, under the Governor’s proposal, was to go into the retirement system.  So while claiming education funding increased, the Governor failed to address the cost of inflation for the Standards of Quality funding for K-12 education.  He also proposed that localities increase funding for the retirement system, which was viewed by many as an unfunded mandate.  But it was clear that no matter the shortcomings in the Governor’s budget, we would address VRS in some way during the 2012 session.

In addition to investing more dollars into VRS, the Governor initiated legislation to reform the VRS system.  He recommended an optional hybrid program be developed for state employees and reduced the multiplier for retirement benefits of new employees.  For current employees, the proposal increased the number of years from three to five for calculation of final retirement benefits, reduced cost of living adjustments, and required an additional one percent employee contribution. The House and Senate have adopted different approaches, incorporating some features of the Governor’s original proposal.

The Senate rejected the provisions to reduce employee benefits and created a mandatory hybrid program for state and local employees.  The Senate’s plan requires an employee contribution of four percent to the defined benefit plan and one percent to the defined contribution plan.  The employee may also make voluntary contributions up to four percent, which will be matched by the state up to 3.5 percent.  If an employee does not make these contributions voluntarily, the employee contribution will automatically begin increasing in 2017, unless the employee opts out.  The Senate also required the five percent employee contribution be applied to teachers and local employees hired before July 1, 2010.  The locality would have to offset the contribution with corresponding pay increases, as we did in recent years with state employees.

The House proposed an optional defined contribution plan that applies only to state employees. The House also reduced the multiplier for new employees and made the five percent contribution for existing teachers and local employees optional for localities.  The House incorporated the Governor’s suggestion to reduce cost of living adjustments and change the average final compensation calculation to five years.  Those actions will reduce retirement benefits for our retirees.

While I initially supported the hybrid plan, I became concerned that it would have a long term deleterious effect on recruiting quality workers.  As I’ve said on this page before, the retirement system must not only be there for those people currently in government service, but should incent talented people to work for the state.  Because I was not convinced the hybrid approach would do that, I voted against the bill.  Nevertheless, we have to find a solution to protect the long term solvency of the retirement system.  All of the legislation is heading to a conference committee, in which a small group of Delegates and Senators will work towards a compromise.  I look forward to reviewing the end product.

It remains an honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  During this last week of the session, please do not hesitate to call or email if I can be of service to you or if you have comments on pending legislation.  We can be reached at district25@senate.virginia.gov or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Delegate David Toscano sends his latest update from the General Assembly Session in Richmond.

The eyes of the nation have been focused on Virginia. And it is not for any special recognition for job creation or economic activity as it was under the Warner and Kaine Administrations. Instead, the country has been riveted on the debate on social issues that has occurred during this session.

In the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address, he advised Republicans not to overreach. But overreach is what we have gotten. The most recent example has been the passage of an extremely intrusive bill designed to compel women against their will to have a transvaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion. The House bill passed last week and brought a firestorm of opposition from around the country. Democrats have railed against this bill, which would require doctors to invade a woman’s body with a vaginal probe, as an unnecessary and unconstitutional invasion of a woman’s privacy rights. During our debate on the same bill passed by the Senate, the Governor, who has had this bill to review since January 10th changed his position at the last minute. He then presented new language, which we were given less than one-half hour to review prior to passage. This is not the way to carefully consider major changes in social policy. I continue to have serious concerns about this modified bill. The bill is now in the Senate, and I will continue to oppose it.

The so-called “personhood” bill, which would have granted constitutional rights to an unborn child passed the House. The Senate, however, recognizing the far reaching legal complications of the measure, voted to recommit the bill to the Senate Committee on Education and Health, essentially killing the bill for this year.

As the Democratic leader in the House, I am proud of the House Democrats who have fought hard to protect women’s health and the assault on women’s rights. If you are interested in seeing some of the debate on the bill, you can click here.

We finally were able to debate the budget on Thursday, February 23, 2012. Over the last few weeks, I have been pushing for changes in Gov. McDonnell’s budget, which included draconian cuts in the health care safety net and substantial changes in education funding. We are able to prevail in restoring many of the cuts to the safety net, including funding for the free clinics and community health centers. In addition, because of our advocacy, many, though not all, of the cuts for the school divisions and localities were inserted into the House budget. Nonetheless, I could not support a budget which diverts hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund that assists schools, public safety, and health care to fund transportation. Transportation should be funded on a user-fee approach, and the Governor has unfortunately refused to exercise sufficient leadership to fix the problem.

Due to our efforts, Charlottesville and Albemarle, will receive more money than what is in the Governor’s budget, but not as much as they received only several years ago. The result has been a greater burden on the local taxpayer and, as you can see in the debates in Albemarle County, increased pressure on the real estate tax rate. At some point, the Commonwealth needs to honor its obligations to adequately fund public education, and we will continue to fight to insure that it does so.

Thanks to everyone who participated in my telephone town hall meeting on Thursday. We had a good conversation and more questions than time to answer. I received great input from these calls and look forward to hearing more.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you in Richmond. Your input is important to me and I invite you to share your thoughts and concerns with me on all matters before the Commonwealth. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

David

You can signup for Delegate Toscano’s email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Delegate David Toscano sends his latest update from the General Assembly Session in Richmond.

We have now hit the mid-point of the General Assemblysession.   Known as “crossover,” this is a date by which each body needs to pass its legislation over to the other body for consideration.   What that means is long sessions in which hundreds of bills are considered in a single day.

As has been the case throughout the session, the debate has been fierce and the conservative agenda of the House Republican caucus has largely prevailed.   The House has passed the so-called “personhood” bill, which defines life as beginning at conception, extending rights to “unborn children.”  Even if this measure is found to be constitutional, the potential exists for all kinds of unintended consequences.  The word “person” is used more than 10,000 times in the Virginia Code, and many thoughtful observers are concerned about the implications of this legislation for everything from Medicaid eligibility for unborn children to inheritance law.

The House rejected an amendment to ensure that the measure would not compromise a woman’s ability to use lawful contraception, a fact that raises serious questions about how far the proponents wish to take their efforts to deny families the ability to plan when they wish to have children.

The House also passed a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before they can have an abortion. The “ultrasound” bill is yet another example of how some legislators have decided to increase the government intrusion into the private lives of Virginia families by requiring doctors to perform an invasive procedure which is not medically necessary and, in some cases, could actually involve the penetration of a woman’s body without her explicit consent.  During debate, one Republican member suggested that the termination of a pregnancy was a “matter of lifestyle convenience,” a comment for which he later apologized.

 

I voted against both the “personhood” bill and the “ultrasound” bill.

The House passed two bills designed to reform the Virginia Retirement System.   The first makes some minor changes to the benefits for employees hired beginning January 1, 2013 in an effort to shore-up the financial viability of the system.   The second involves the creation of an optional defined contribution plan by which individuals could opt out of the defined benefit plan in exchange for participating in a new arrangement.   I remain concerned about the financial implications of such an approach, but am also aware that there is a bill coming from the Senate that takes a slightly different approach.   My focus in this debate is to ensure the fiscal viability of the plan for employees to whom we have made promises, and to retain the choice for those who wish to remain in the defined benefit plan.   I hope that we will have several bills that allow us to meet these two goals.

The House passed a bill to extend the death penalty to another category of persons, that is, those who are involved in capital murder, but did not actually commit the killing. I voted against this, as I have done in the past.

The House passed a series of bills providing tax credits to a wide variety of groups, primarily larger companies, despite a recent JLARC report that indicates that some of the credits no longer serve their original purpose.   I argued for the elimination of the coal tax credit, a measure that costs the taxpayers $31 million a year and which does little to create jobs in the coal industry.   Instead, the General Assembly decided to extend the credit for another two years.   I was able to prevail in getting a commission appointed to study all of these credits in greater detail.   Perhaps that commission will provide sufficient political cover for the legislature to make some very hard decisions to eliminate some of these credits, which, after passed, provide a continuing drain on the State’s budget.

Now that crossover is done, we will focus on the budget and see whether we can protect and expand education funding for all levels.

On February 19th, the House and Senate will release their revisions to the Governor’s proposed budget. We will have two days to review the proposed revisions before we begin the process of debate on the House floor to offer amendments to reflect our priorities for education, jobs and healthcare.

On Thursday, February 23 beginning at 7:00 pm, I will conduct a live telephone town hall to discuss the budget. Joining me will be Michael Cassidy, President and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute, and we will discuss more closely how the budget affects our schools, VRS, transportation and the safety net.  Sign up here with your name and telephone number to join the conversation on Thursday, February 23.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you in Richmond. Your input is important to me and I invite you to share your thoughts and concerns with me on all matters before the Commonwealth. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

David

You can signup for Delegate Toscano’s email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.