Today marks the end of the first full week of the 2012 General Assembly Session. We are in full swing and many bills have begun working through the committee process and onto the House floor.
Let me take this time to update you on what’s going on in Richmond.
A Long-Term Fix for Transportation
First let me thank you for the many suggestions and ideas we have received regarding the Governor’s proposed Transportation Plan. They are very helpful. I believe we have reached a point in time where simply being “for” or “against” the plan is not good enough and we must all try to find solutions to our transportation issues in a good bill.
Personally there are parts of the bill that I like, and other parts that I am less excited about. I will offer you my thoughts in this statement, but I can tell you there is much to do yet before a bill comes before us for a vote.
Nothing we do will produce perfect legislation. There are no easy answers and no silver bullet solutions. Any real fix will require some tough decision making and a bold course of action. With state revenues at 2008 levels, I believe any solution will have to be a blended formula that creates new revenue AND uses existing revenues.
While I am generally opposed to raising taxes I believe swapping out the gas tax for a slight sales tax increase actually favors our district and rural Virginia. In rural Virginia commutes are generally longer and distances between most points are usually longer than in urban areas. Yet with the gas tax in place for everyone at the same rate we end up paying proportionally more than drivers in those urban areas because we buy more gas and drive more miles. In the absence of the gas tax, price per gallon gasoline should fall. We can’t guarantee that because we can’t determine the level of corporate greed that exists, but even if it doesn’t you will be buying more gasoline for your money.
The sales tax increase will impact everyone, but the tax does not include food or prescription medicine, and most of us in the rural districts will likely not increase spending to the degree that a 0.8% sales tax increase will be burdensome. In addition, because spending in the urban areas of the state far exceeds that of rural Virginia, sales tax revenue should increase significantly. That means that places like Northern Virginia and Tidewater will be paying for their transportation improvements largely with their own money instead of allowing us the privilege of helping pay with ours.
There is one other important point to consider. Although transportation may not be the number one priority in our area, it poses significant problems for the Commonwealth that must be addressed. Our failure to find a solution in the final years of this Governor’s administration leaves open the possibility that the next Governor and General Assembly will attempt to change the current transportation funding formula, and that could be disastrous for us in rural Virginia where the present formula is actually favorable to us.
I am in favor of using General Fund money to help fund transportation. Transportation is a core function of government, just like education and public safety, and that’s what we use general funds (tax revenue) for. But the General Fund alone will not suffice, and so we must find other sources of revenue as well.
I also believe that one of the items that must be negotiable is the remaining tax on diesel fuel for passenger vehicles. In the interest of fairness I feel the gas tax must be removed for diesel owners as well.
House Republicans are dedicated to creating an environment that helps small businesses create new jobs and opportunities. With the announcement that Virginia’s unemployment rate is now the lowest in the Southeast after falling to 5.5%, it is another sign that Virginia’s economy is moving in the right direction.
Though it would appear that the economy is improving, we must not let our guard down. There is still a lot of uncertainty, and we must continue to work to ensure that we are putting Virginian’s back to work. Therefore we will continue to focus on legislation that fosters and incentivizes job growth in the Commonwealth. We can do this by decreasing the taxes and regulations on small businesses, and rewarding those corporations and small businesses that bring jobs to Virginia.
This is one of the reasons that I proposed House Bill 1370. House Bill 1370 is a bill that would create an individual and corporate income tax credit beginning January 1, 2013 for small businesses creating new full-time jobs in the Commonwealth. The credit would equal $1,000 for each new job created, and a small business would be allowed the credit for an aggregate of 50 jobs. Under the provisions of this bill there is no actual cost to the Commonwealth unless the concept works, and then it would pay for itself in payroll taxes and sales taxes resulting from the new paychecks and income.
Though I do not believe that it is the government’s role to create jobs, I do believe that we can provide incentives for job creation by rewarding businesses that bring new jobs to the Commonwealth. I believe this type of legislation is innovative, and will help our unemployment rate continue to fall.
Though we are still early in the Session, several of my bills have already been heard in subcommittees, full committees, and on the House floor.
Two pieces of legislation that I am carrying for the administration deal with the Comprehensive Services Act. They are House Bills 1646 and 1683. This legislation was reported out of the Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions on Tuesday unanimously. Both passed today before the full House by a vote of 98-0.
House Bill 1646 clarifies eligibility requirements for funds from the state pool of funds for comprehensive services for at-risk youth and family. House Bill 1683 adds community-based mental health services to the list of services for which expenditures must be reported by the Office of Comprehensive Services for At-Risk Youth and Families. Both of these pieces of legislation are designed to ensure that the money that is spent under the Comprehensive Services Act is spent wisely and properly. I hope this legislation will continue to gain support when it crosses over to the Senate.
Additionally, I have two education bills that were heard in sub-committee this week. The first was House Bill 1406. House Bill 1406 requires each school board to annually provide parent educational information or screen public school students in grades five through 12 for eating disorders. This legislation was reported out of the subcommittee on Students and Early Education unanimously, and is expected to be heard in full committee on Monday. My hope is that this legislation will allow earlier detection of eating disorders, and result in saved lives.
The second education bill in subcommittee this week was House Bill 2151. This is a heavily amended version of the teacher contract legislation I proposed in 2012. The bill as currently written makes a number of changes to the processes to which teachers are evaluated and to the grievance process. It requires teachers and administrators to be evaluated every year and includes student academic progress as a component. The legislation includes a measure that gives local school boards the option of extending the probationary process for a new teacher from three to five years to allow more time to evaluate performance. Perhaps most importantly, the legislation streamlines the grievance process for teachers by a series of changes to the hearing process. It includes a shortened time frame and the appointment of a single impartial hearing officer instead of a three-member panel. The passage of this legislation will result in a 2% raise for teachers.
We began work on this bill immediately after the 2012 Session. We brought ALL stakeholders to the table and, after a great deal of hard work, were able to come up with a bill that all the stakeholders could agree to support. We were pleased to work with the Virginia Education Association, the School Boards’ Association, and the Superintendents’ Association to bring forth a bill that will be beneficial to teachers, administrators and, most importantly, the students.
House bill 2151 was reported out of the Teachers and Administrative Actions subcommittee yesterday on an 8-0 vote. It will be heard in full committee on Monday.
We were delighted to see several familiar faces from home this week. We were visited by local voter registrars, Lisa Wooten from Waynesboro and Jacqueline Britt from Nelson County, who came to the General Assembly to lobby us on legislation that affects our voting and elections processes. Lynn Downs dropped by to meet with us regarding our local March of Dimes.
As always, I was happy to see Linda Hershey and several members of the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as members of the Staunton Professional Fire Department. We were also visited by John Downey and a group of Blue Ridge Community College students, Dr. Don Henry, a local veterinarian, and Monte Skall, a Highland County resident and representative of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association.
If you find yourself in Richmond over the next few weeks, please drop by and say hello! Our room number in the General Assembly Building is 517. If you know that you’re coming, we encourage you to email or call us ahead of time to set up an appointment.
My staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We want to hear what you think about the legislation pending before the House. In order ensure that we are able to respond to you in as quickly of a manner as possible, we ask that you please send ALL email inquiries to DelDBell@house.virginia.gov. We can also be reached by phone at 804-698-1020.
Please understand that we value your input and feedback, however, due to the volume of email and phone calls that we receive, we may not be able to get back to you immediately. However we assure you that we will respond to all of our emails and voicemails as quickly as possible. Please use the official Delegate email and office phones to reach us. If you are attempting to reach me through personal email or phone your message may be lost. Be aware that we also have a sensitive “spam” filter that traps many emails and we sometimes miss getting them. We sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.