Happy New Year! The start of the 2020 General Assembly session is now less than a week away (January 8) and legislators from across the Commonwealth are busy putting the final touches on their bills. I anticipate introducing between 15 and 20 bills and look forward to sharing the details with you over the next few weeks.
Pre-Session Public Hearing This Saturday
Do you have a specific issue on your mind, or just want to learn what your neighbors are advocating for? The Fairfax delegation to the General Assembly will hold a hearing for public comment this Saturday, January 4, at the Fairfax County Government Center. The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and last until the final speaker has spoken. You can register to speak on-line or watch the proceedings live on Channel 16.
New Leadership Position
With the shift in party control, that also means changes in leadership. I am honored to have been appointed the new chair of the General Laws Committee. What on earth does General Laws do? Well, pretty much anything not covered by another committee, including regulation of professions and occupations, procurement, consumer protection, freedom of information, religious matters, fire prevention/emergency services, whistleblower protection, alcohol, gaming, and housing - just to name a few. To say that I am thrilled is an understatement.
Governor's Proposed Budget
This is a long session (60 days), which means that in addition to debating hundreds of bills, we will vote on Virginia's biennial budget. The Governor proposes the initial budget, which is always introduced as House Bill 30. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- $733 million in new funding for natural resources, with a focus on meeting Virginia's commitment to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. This includes significant new funding to clean up polluted urban stormwater.
- Creation of an Office of Offshore Wind to grow this energy resource. The Governor also proposes $40 million in new funding to develop offshore wind infrastructure.
- An additional $16 million per year (for a total of $35 million per year) to expand broadband in rural communities. This is an essential part of rural economic development.
- $1.2 billion in new funding for schools and educators. This includes $808.5 million over the next two years to keep pace with the general cost of education, a 3% pay raise for teachers and support staff, and adding more school counselors.
- $140 million more for at-risk students (dropout prevention, after-school programs, and specialized instruction). The funding depends on new revenue from electronic gaming - which will be a point of serious debate by the General Assembly.
- $95 million to expand access to quality early childhood education, with a focus on at-risk four-year-olds and three-year-olds.
- $72.5 million each year for workforce training. This will be used to provide community college tuition assistance for low and moderate income students. The Governor proposes an additional $5.4 million for need-based financial aid for Virginia undergraduate students at public universities. The Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program for Virginia students attending private universities would increase to $4,000 per student.
- Additional funding aimed specifically at reducing infant mortality and ensuring that both babies and mothers have access to health care.
- $63 million in additional funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which works to increase affordable housing and reduce homelessness.
- $177 million for community-based services, including mental health services.
- Changes to Virginia's health care system to increase access and affordability. This includes establishment of a reinsurance program with a goal of reducing premiums by 20%. Reinsurance is a pool of money that helps insurers cover high-need people. This will be paid for by increasing Virginia's cigarette tax, which at 30 cents per pack is the second-lowest in the nation.
- Multiple changes to transportation funding. This includes eliminating the vehicle safety inspection program (this will be a hotly debated topic by the General Assembly), reducing the auto registration fee, and then raising the gas tax four cents a year over three years.
Overall, the budget is approximately $140 billion over two years and assumes a relatively conservative 4% growth rate in revenue. As required by the Virginia Constitution, the budget must balance revenue and expenditures. While the Governor gets the first crack at the budget, it is then up to the General Assembly to amend it as we see fit. No doubt there will be lots of good debate!
I look forward to your thoughts and feedback! Please watch out for my 2020 Constituent Survey in the next two weeks. Also, mark your calendar for my annual Town Hall meeting on Saturday, January 25 from 9-11 a.m. at Fairfax City Hall. I will be joined by State Senator Chap Petersen.
It is an honor to represent you!