Creigh Deeds: General Assembly Report
The 2011 session is proving to be one of the busiest I’ve seen. A typical day starts before 7 a.m. when constituents come to the General Assembly Building to meet with their legislators, followed quickly by 7:30 a.m. subcommittee meetings. Standing committees meet before and after the 12 p.m. session and last into the evening,
The challenges before us this year are enormous. As always, adjustments to the $78 billion two-year spending plan predominate. This fiscal year we saw growth in revenue for the first time in a couple of years; unfortunately, the actual growth did not meet expectations, creating a shortfall. New budget projections will be made available next month, so the money committees are working to develop a budget plan based on fluctuating numbers. The estimates suggest a shortfall in the range of $200 to $300 million. The Governor’s budget contains about a billion dollars of new spending, offset with nearly half a billion dollars of spending cuts. Those cuts come primarily from Medicaid, K-12 education, and the state workforce. Needless to say, none of the cuts or proposed spending increases come without controversy. We are entrusted by the people to put aside partisan differences and work together for the good of the Commonwealth but, in this environment, that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Virginia’s legislative process is special in many respects. Every other state legislative process and the federal process is based on the system of government first established in Virginia in 1619. The part-time nature of the Virginia General Assembly and that legislators must earn their primary income outside legislative service is important. Our legislative sessions are short, which keeps legislators close to the people. We have much to be proud of, and it is hard not to reflect on the historical nature of this body and of our great country. It is within this context I have viewed with some trepidation a new trend in legislation.
During this week, a number of measures were considered in an ongoing campaign by many to confront the federal government through state government action. Frankly, I do not support every vote taken by the U.S. Congress either, but I am not convinced that the General Assembly session, with limited time to meet the enormous challenges at the state level, is the appropriate forum to wage war against federal authority. In my view, we should focus on rebuilding the infrastructure of this economy, invigorating job growth, making sure that college education is affordable for all Virginians, and providing a K-12 system that works in every part of the state to give young people the opportunity to advance. Crusades like the ones we have seen to challenge federal law through the state government, rather than through the courts and the ballot box, is in my view a trend toward making the legislature full-time. We are better served by a limited part-time government. During the past ten days, we have spent an inordinate amount of time on these issues, such as the repeal amendment and some labor amendments, which will do little to address the pressing needs of the Commonwealth.
Every year I carry legislation at the request of the many jurisdictions I am honored to represent. This week the Senate advanced the bills embodying the Alleghany-Highlands Citizens Committee’s agreement with respect to consolidation of Alleghany County and Covington. If these measures pass the General Assembly, we will be one step closer to the ultimate decision that will be made by the voters on consolidation.
I also introduced two bills relating to bike safety at the request of a work group in the City of Charlottesville. The work group was formed following a couple of tragic accidents in the City. One proposal sought to create an alternate charge to reckless driving for cyclists and drivers. The final bill, which would have created a reckless cycling offense, was stricken at my request to give bike safety groups around Virginia the opportunity to discuss this issue in depth and determine if this is the correct way to promote safety.
This week saw the deadline come and go for the introduction of bills, and the budget amendments submitted by legislators are now available on line. The committee dockets are full of countless measures to be considered, many which are aimed at incentivizing job growth throughout Virginia. The next thirty-five days will go rapidly and the issues before us are significant.
It continues to be an honor for me to serve in the Senate of Virginia. Do not hesitate to contact us if we may be of assistance. I can be reached at (804) 698-7525 or by email at email@example.com. My legislative aide is Tracy Eppard. If you have questions, concerns, or comments, or if you would like to schedule a trip to see your General Assembly at work, please feel free to contact us.
Creigh Deeds is a Virginia state senator.