Report From Richmond: Week 3

I was given the opportunity to write several articles for the Leesburg Today, detailing the highlights and activities of the 2015 General Assembly Session. These articles have been cross posted here.  

Last week saw a steady ramping-up of intensity as committee hearings on legislation increased in number and duration and the first wave of committee-recommended bills made its way to the floors of both houses. The cut-off date for the filing of all bills to be considered by the 2015 Session was 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 30. Both the Senate and the House of Delegates have until midnight (yes, midnight) on Crossover Day, Tuesday, Feb. 10, in which to complete their work on bills originating in their respective houses and communicate approved bills over to the other chamber. The last few days before crossover will feature long floor sessions, extended debate on controversial bills (that always seem to get put off until the last few days), and review and approval of the annual budget bill.

It may be helpful to briefly review the annual budget process we follow in the General Assembly. In even numbered years, we review and approve a biennial budget that funds our commonwealth for two years, from July 1 of an even year to June 30 of the next even year. As you can imagine, that process is never without a bit of drama because, as a state with a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget requirement, a true governmental shut-down occurs unless both houses and the governor approve a biennial budget bill by midnight on June 30 of the even year. Last year, the biennial budget was not completed until June 23, just a week before the deadline, due primarily to a vigorous debate on Medicaid Expansion. In the odd years, there is always a budget bill that is functionally a mid-course correction to the approved biennial budget, accommodating new economic news and adjusting funding priorities for the second year of the biennium, i.e.: this year from July 1, 2015 until June 30, 2016. Since the previously approved biennial budget is in place funding our commonwealth through the end of this biennium, there is no threat of a shut-down even if both houses never reach agreement on a budget bill this year. On this coming Sunday afternoon, Feb. 8, the House Appropriations Committee will complete its work on the budget bill and, for the first time, House members who are not on that committee will see how the governor’s proposed budget has been altered by amendments filed by members such as me and by mark-up by the Appropriations Committee. Then, the House of Delegates will need to study, debate, amend if deemed necessary and act upon that budget bill by the crossover deadline only two days thereafter. Does that sound like an unduly compressed review schedule? I think so and have advocated an earlier release date of the budget bill to allow members to have ample review time.

Another topic near and dear to every Loudoun County citizen is transportation funding. This year there is a significant transportation funding bill (HB 1887) in front of us that adjusts how taxpayer dollars are allocated for road and transit improvements and between the various categories of roads. This bill is the first major transportation initiative of the McAuliffe Administration and it is patroned by two Republican House committee chairmen, namely Tom Rust (R-Herndon) of the Transportation Committee and Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) of the Appropriations Committee. It also follows two significant transportation laws recently enacted. The first is HB 2313 from the 2013 session that was a refinancing of our commonwealth’s transportation road construction and maintenance programs. The second is HB 2 from the 2014 session that requires proposed projects to be tested for their congestion-relieving attributes relative to their cost. A number of us on the House Transportation Committee have spent hours reviewing HB 1887 to be sure there are no unintended consequences. The bill appears to strike a good balance between road and transit improvements.

Last week, I had a number of my bills move forward to the floor for approval and a few met their demise in House committees. The mortality rate of bills filed which actually become law is about 65 percent so, as in baseball, batting .400 is really not that bad. One bill tabled last week was my bill to reform the Local Composite Index (LCI). This is the formula used to divide up state monies to county and city public school systems. I have had issues with the LCI for years now. This year I filed a bill (HB 1514) to correct a major problem in the LCI whereby Loudoun County is actually penalized for offering a land use assessment program to preserve our rural economy and enhance open space. After winning approval in the House Secondary Education Subcommittee, my bill was tabled on a close 11-10 vote in the full Education Committee where it was opposed by House members from more urban jurisdictions who did not want to see this inequity resolved. I will continue on in this quest to reform the LCI as it continues to treat Loudoun County unfairly.

My next report in two weeks will feature a post-crossover report.

Paid for and authorized by Minchew for Delegate

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