Creigh Deeds: Session newsletter

The midpoint in the 2011 session is fast approaching. Under the procedural rules adopted at the beginning of every session, the House of Delegates and the Senate must take final action on bills introduced in that body by crossover. The process would not work without self imposed time limits and rules, so by February 8 each house must finish work on its own legislation and then the bills crossover for consideration in the other house. Each body will complete its version of the budget by February 10.

One overarching theme this session is the focus on job creation. This past week, the Democratic Senate Caucus, of which I am part, announced a jobs package, including a number of measures designed to invigorate job creation in the Commonwealth. Many of these ideas are not new and, hopefully, will garner bi-partisan support.

SB 1443 – Creates a preference for Virginia businesses when the Commonwealth contracts to buy goods and services.

SB 1460 – Establishes a program for unemployed workers to continue receiving unemployment compensation benefits while participating in work force skills enhancement training from a potential employer.

SB 1473 – Establishes a voluntary program between employers and employees that creates employee-employer-matched retraining savings accounts.

Loan Guaranty Program – Increases funding from $1 million to $5 million.

SB 1440 – Creates the Commonwealth Innovation Investment Fund to create, attract, retain, expand, and enhance technology research, innovation, and economic development.

Needless to say, there are lots of other ideas that have been introduced this session with the focus on creating jobs, and I am hopeful that we can get significant work done that will help stimulate the economy.

A second dominant issue is the building bipartisan support for the passage of a transportation plan. As I have discussed many times, in my view, this is the quickest way for us to create jobs and ensure long-term economic growth in Virginia. Transportation infrastructure will help us attract the best paying jobs and is an important investment in the Commonwealth; however, we have to be careful about the package we adopt. The Governor introduced a plan that will issue $4 billion in bonds primarily for road construction and maintenance. This is significant because typically Virginia has been a “pay as you go” state with respect to transportation, and many of these bonds would be of 25 year duration. Long-term debt is not the way to pay for roads that will need resurfacing many times before the debt is retired.

The administration acknowledged this week that the issuance of transportation bonds will for the first time push our debt service over the five percent limit which has been imposed as a matter of policy since the Commonwealth first started issuing debt over 40 years ago. The cap, which is somewhat artificial in nature, limits Virginia’s debt service payments to five percent of the General Fund revenues in any given year. The Governor wants to change the model for debt servicing to ensure Virginia’s debt service does not exceed the average of five percent over a ten year period. Under this proposal, debt service in the Commonwealth will exceed 5.5 percent of General Fund revenues in fiscal year 2014. While this may seem insignificant, in my view the consequences of reliance on debt could bring long term change to the Commonwealth, and I believe we need to consider seriously the implications of this public policy change.

This past week has been busy for me. Many of the measures I introduced have been considered:

The bills that would allow the citizens of Alleghany Highlands to consider consolidation have moved forward. While the bills are precedent setting and somewhat controversial, they passed the Senate unanimously. The legislation has generated interest because a number of stressed local governments around the state are considering ways to provide services more efficiently and are looking at consolidation options.

My three year effort to create a clean energy manufacturing tax credit appears to be on the road to success this year. My bill, SB 1229, was incorporated into legislation introduced, at the Governor’s request, by Senator Walter Stosch of Henrico. I think this job creating incentive will finally be enacted.

My long time effort to increase retirement benefits for conservation officers with law enforcement responsibilities who work in state parks is still alive, though with a hefty price tag. I am not confident we will move the matter forward this year, but we have laid the groundwork for future success.

So that people and businesses can more easily access tax forms, I filed a bill requesting the Department of Taxation to put all forms online in PDF form. The Department estimates the bill will cost over a $100,000 a year to implement but agrees with the intent of the bill. We are trying to work on language to phase in the requirement to keep the cost reasonable. This will increase efficiency and convenience for taxpayers around the Commonwealth.

My measure to request the Governor to develop a zero-based budgeting plan has advanced out of subcommittee. Frankly, I think that this could, if enacted, save the Commonwealth upwards of $1 billion a year. This idea has worked in other states, and I am encouraged to have received support thus far.

With SB 1451, I am attempting to provide transparency for facilities and group homes that serve children with behavioral health issues. Recently, a number of problems within some of these homes have been reported in the press. I introduced this bill at the request of a number of constituents, and it is has drawn support from around the state. The bill, which would require the state to publish licensing reports online, has advanced through subcommittee. We are still debating the potential cost.

For a number of years now I have been on a crusade to reform the redistricting process. I am pleased to report my measure to constitutionally take redistricting outside the legislative process has advanced from committee and will come up for approval soon in the full Senate.

I have heard from many constituents about a number of important bills this session. Every vote I take is informed by your input and the debate during committee meetings and on the floor of the Senate. The process works best when legislators keep an open mind and are willing to hear all sides before rendering a decision. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to engage in this process. 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 me or my legislative aide, Tracy Eppard, at (804) 698-7525 or by email at district25@senate.virginia.gov.

Creigh Deeds is a member of the Virginia State Senate.

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