Creigh Deeds: Session report

The regular 2011 session of the General Assembly began on the second Wednesday of January. The day was full of pomp and circumstance and some matters of substance. We swore in a new state senator, Bill Stanley, from Franklin County, who was elected to fill the seat of newly elected Congressman Robert Hurt. The Courts of Justice Committee met to certify judges who are up for reelection, including Judge Sanner of Orange, Judge Heatwole of Waynesboro, Judge Tucker of Botetourt, Judge Morton of Culpeper, Judge Whitlock of Louisa, Judge Farrar of Nelson, and Judge Garrett of Amherst. All of them serve the area I represent.

This session we will have to deal with big money issues. While the budget situation is not as dire as in the recent past, we are still facing a shortfall. There is no shortage of demands for services as Virginia’s population continues to grow. In addition, we have a huge imbalance in the Virginia Retirement System that must be addressed. I have heard from many people on various demands on the budget and on the VRS issues. We also have an ongoing transportation dilemma.

Discussions about transportation primarily focus on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads where the need is admittedly critical. However, there are transportation needs throughout Virginia. In the Route 29 corridor, residents south of Charlottesville, particularly in Lynchburg and Danville, demand a bypass around the Charlottesville area. And while a bypass has been on the books for many years, the roadway as planned does not circumvent the congested area. Furthermore, the cost has grown so dramatically that the needed improvements will not be made unless a transportation plan is adopted.

The ongoing improvements on Interstate 81 and Interstate 64 are being paid for with Federal stimulus funds. We need long term solutions for both corridors.

Likewise, at the western end of the district, improvements in the Route 220 corridor are often overlooked. For example, the single most important project to the Alleghany Highlands is completion of the four lane between Eagle Rock and Clifton Dale Park. This project has been discussed since at least the 1960s, and it was in the six year plan as recently as the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, the Boards of Supervisors of both Botetourt and Alleghany repeatedly called for the completion of the four lanes because the project could bring real economic growth to the region. During the Gilmore administration, former Senator Trumbo and I earmarked money in a bond package for improvements in the 220 corridor. While multiple issues must still be worked out, such as the exact route and a plan for minimization of bridges, the bottom line is we cannot go forward until we have a comprehensive transportation funding plan for Virginia.

In contemplating how to address transportation, I resurrected an issue that I promoted during my gubernatorial campaign. Other states, like Texas and Illinois, have invoked a method of budgeting called zero-based budgeting and have realized tremendous savings using this technique. Simply put, zero-based budgeting requires agencies to justify every expenditure. I think, as efficient as government is in Virginia, we could probably save close to $1 billion a year if we started using zero-based budgeting.

During the 2009 campaign, the Governor agreed with me on the merits of this budgeting tool, and I am hopeful he will agree with me now. I have introduced a resolution calling for the Governor to develop a zero-based budgeting plan by the end of the year, with the hope we can use identified savings for transportation. Before we ask taxpayers to pay more, or borrow money necessitating taxpayers to pay more in the future, we ought to identify savings that we can use for transportation.

Zero-based budgeting has also been promoted by Delegate Bell of Staunton who has introduced similar legislation in the House of Delegates. While we have a number of important budget matters to address, including preserving the extension service, rectifying the imbalance in VRS, and minimizing impacts on our localities and schools, I am hopeful we can identify savings to help us meet the most significant economic development challenge we have: transportation.

It continues to be an honor for me to serve in the Senate of Virginia. The legislature will be in session through February 26. I can be reached at (804) 698-7525 or by email at district25@senate.virginia.gov. 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.

Column by State Sen. Creigh Deeds


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