Challenges ahead for state lawmakers
Column by State Sen. Creigh Deeds
The General Assembly convened on Jan. 13. Twenty new members of the House of Delegates were sworn in, reflecting in large part the Republican sweep of the elections in November. Two new senators were sworn in, both vacancies created by the November election. Sen. Ken Stolle from Virginia Beach was elected sheriff of that city. His seat was filled by fellow Republican Jeff McWaters. Sen. Ken Cuccinelli was elected Attorney General of Virginia. His seat was filled by Democrat Dave Marsden of Fairfax County.
Most legislators have buckled down for a very tough session. Usually there is light at the end of the tunnel, but this year the budget situation is indeed dire. Virginia’s government has fared better in the tough economy than other states, in large part because of decisions we made on a bipartisan basis back in 2004 when Mark Warner was governor. Even though during Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration we have been forced to trim government spending by $7 billion, we have consistently been rated the best state for business, the best state to raise a family, and the best managed state in the country.
There are certainly always efficiencies you can find in any process, and we have an obligation to continue to look for ways to trim expenditures where we can. In this year’s budget, submitted by the outgoing governor last month, another $2.5 billion in cuts to state services are anticipated. In addition, the governor included language allowing localities to raise income tax by one percent, thus avoiding another $1.9 billion in cuts. Of course, this tax increase is very unlikely to pass, so the budget will need to be trimmed by another $1.9 billion.
The governor has already voiced his opposition to Gov. Kaine’s budget. In the next week we can expect to receive budget amendments and recommendations from the new governor. Whatever our views about the 2009 election, it is in the best interest of every single Virginian that our new governor be successful so that we continue to move Virginia forward. We have to make the necessary investments to ensure that we continue to have the strongest economy in the country and can attract the best paying jobs to Virginia.
There are serious challenges ahead for us in several vital areas of state government. As I have noted many times in the past, we have a transportation system that no longer meets our needs and requires reform and investment. Primarily because we have failed to recognize the overall value of higher education to the Commonwealth, we have allowed tuition to increase in a manner that I fear is pricing much of our population out of the promise that a college education can bring. Educational opportunities throughout the state at the primary and secondary level are not equal. We need to ensure that all children have access to education that will prepare them for success. We have not done a good enough job promoting economic development throughout Virginia and, as a result, I fear that young people will continue to leave their home communities. We have much work to do.
This year I will serve on the following standing committees: Courts of Justice, Commerce and Labor, the Privileges and Elections Committee, and Transportation. During the last eighteen years of legislative service, I have served on an agriculture committee in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, which fit with my background and interest. I grew up on a farm and have first hand knowledge of issues relating to agriculture and conservation. However, I had the opportunity to move to the Committee on Commerce and Labor, which handles banking, insurance, and other business related matters, and thought that was a good place to continue my work.
The legislative session promises to be a busy time. If you want to share your views or would like to visit the General Assembly while it is in action, please let us know. We can be reached at P.O. Box 396, Richmond, Virginia 23218, 804.698.7525 or by e-mail at email@example.com. I look forward to your input.