Featured: Del. Ken Plum, Del. David Englin
Ken Plum: The LCI takes center stage
Virginia’s formula for funding public schools is very complex. Theoretically the average school district would be funded half by the state and half by local government. In actuality, the split in spending for public schools is closer to 55 percent local government and 45 percent state government because of the state’s failure to fully fund its share. The complexity comes from determining the true cost of education and the ability of local governments to support their own schools. The cost of education is determined by pricing the Standards of Quality (SOQ), the basic state requirements for operating a school. The SOQs relate to staffing, materials, and square footage needed to run a school. All public schools in Virginia including the poorest districts exceed the SOQ standard because the standards are so minimal. The understated standards result in a lower state share of costs.
The local composite index (LCI) determines the ability of a local school system to pay for its own schools. The relative wealth of a school system is measured by its property values (50 percent), adjusted gross income (40 percent), and retail sales. The wealthier a jurisdiction, the higher its composite index and vice versa. The higher a locality’s LCI, or its ability to pay, the less state aid the locality receives. The system is intended to ensure that children throughout the Commonwealth have a nearly equal access to public education. Such an equalization effort is not only the moral thing to do, but it has been interpreted by the courts as being required under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Not surprisingly, the LCI for Northern Virginia localities is high; Arlington is at the .80 ceiling. Fairfax is .7650. That means local governments in Northern Virginia pay 75 to 80 percent of their school costs; the state pays the rest. In poorer areas in southside and southwest Virginia the state pays as much as 80 percent of school costs. These numbers are often used in political campaigns to say that a community is not getting back the money it sends to the state because money from richer communities is clearly used to educate children in poorer school divisions.
Periodically the LCI is recalculated based on the relative changes in wealth of localities. This year was to be such a year. For Fairfax County the recalculation was favorable for an increase in state aid because of the decline in property values in the County with the recession. The LCI would drop to .7126. In the budget that Governor Kaine submitted, he proposed that the LCI be frozen and that the recalculations not be used. For Fairfax County, his proposal would be very costly resulting in a decrease of $61 million in state aid. The business community is as organized as I have seen it to support the change in the LCI. The delegation as Democrats and Republicans are united to defeat the Kaine proposal. Gov. McDonnell has not made his position known.
Be prepared to hear much more than you may care to know about the LCI, for it is center stage in the budget debate. Big dollars are at stake when there are not enough dollars to go around.
David Englin: Painful budget looms
With the General Assembly session in full swing, committees are negotiating and debating scores of bills each day. Many elements of my own legislative agenda are moving forward nicely, and I continue standing up for the interests of our community in a very tough environment.
On a near unanimous vote, the House of Delegates last week passed my House Bill 267, which puts us on the home stretch toward launching the Advanced Health Care Directives Registry. A top priority for groups working to advance equal rights for all Virginians, this service will ensure that health care providers and emergency responders know exactly what your wishes are and who may make medical decisions for you. This is the culmination of a two-year effort that began with my 2008 bill to establish the registry, and it demonstrates that, through creative partnerships with the private sector, we can deliver progress eve during thee tough budget times.
During the recent H1N1 vaccination emergency, some children attending private schools and children who are home schooled complained of difficulty accessing the vaccine compared to their public school peers. Therefore, the Health Subcommittee this week approved my House Bill 270 to ensure that all children are accounted for equally in Virginia’s emergency vaccination planning.
Last year, I led the charge on the Renewable Energy Job Creation Tax Credit to spur the growth of green jobs in Virginia. Unfortunately, the bill was pocket vetoed by the Finance Committee chairman. However, this year, Governor McDonnell has adopted this idea as part of his own economic development program. Therefore, my House Bill 268 has been incorporated into the bipartisan Green Job Creation Tax Credit bill that is now working its way through the legislative process.
Unfortunately, the first of my three bills to protect our community from the I-95/395 HOT Lanes proposal was tabled in the Transportation Committee on a party-line vote. Currently, fines from citations issued by law enforcement officers for HOT Lanes violations go to profit the private corporations running the HOT Lanes. House Bill 968 would have prevented that and ensured that these fines go to the State Literary Fund, like other traffic violations.
The committee chairman stated that “these are desperate times” where public-private partnerships are our only chance for transportation system improvements, and he said that preventing private corporations from receiving money from these fines would make them less willing to engage in the public-private partnerships in the future. Of course, I disagree with his analysis, since private corporations like Flour and Transurban stand to make enormous profits through these projects, even without receiving money from police fines. Moreover, the General Assembly is beholden to these partnerships because it has otherwise failed for nearly 25 years to take the steps necessary to responsibly raise revenue for transportation.
On the House Finance Committee, I continue to vote in favor of various proposals to give our local governments a more diverse range of revenue options, so they are not forced to rely so heavily on real estate taxes. Similarly, I continue voting against proposals that would increase the burden on our local governments at a time when they are facing severe cuts from the state. In my view, it is detrimental to quality of life in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax, where we generally enjoy excellent and professional local services, to simultaneously cut funding to and tie the hands of our local governments.
As budget negotiations begin to heat up, protecting public education and safety net programs like Medicaid remain my top priorities. Unfortunately, given that Governor McDonnell has pledged to veto any tax increase and that public education and Medicaid are the two largest budget items that have been spared the most severe past cuts, I expect very painful news over the coming weeks. Since the General Assembly rejected Governor Kaine’s proposal for a one percent income tax surcharge to replace $1.9 billion in revenue lost to car tax relief, we must now find a way to cut that much more from the introduced budget, which was draconian in the first place.
To stay apprised of these and other issues, sign up for my email list at www.davidenglin.org. As always, I welcome your ideas and your feedback at 703.549.3203 or DelDEnglin@house.virginia.gov. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.