The need for a better budget
March 7, 2012
Much of the focus this General Assembly session has been on the socially divisive legislation that has been pushed by conservatives in the House of Delegates. However, the most important piece of legislation that we consider each biennium is the budget. Since Governor McDonnell introduced his flawed budget proposal in December, which would have short changed our educational system substantially while shredding the social safety net, many of us in the House have been advocating for a reallocation of priorities and spending that will enhance education, encourage job creation and protect those most vulnerable.
In the House, Democrats have been more successful than we initially thought, but the budget that emerged was still deficient in many respects. When the House budget went to the Senate, Senate Democrats rejected it and indicated that it required substantial reform before it could be passed. In an attempt to increase pressure on the Senate Democrats, the House Republicans forced through another budget last week that was almost exactly the same form as the one passed previously. I took the floor to analogize the process to the movie starring Bill Murray titled “Ground Hog Day.” In the movie, Murray portrays a weatherman who goes to bed each night only to awake the next morning as if it was the previous day. He goes through the same experiences day after day. Eventually, he learns that he must change his behavior in order to escape from reliving the same day. Last week was an experience in “Ground Hog Day” in the House of Delegates. We received the same budget, had the same debate, and had the same result as we did one week earlier. As I inquired of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, why would the Senate approve the same budget that they had simply rejected last week? I suspect we will see the same outcome from the Senate and be no closer to having a budget than we were a week ago.
In other news, we won a great victory for tax fairness and for main street retailers with the passage of SB597, a measure designed to have Amazon collect and remit sales taxes from internet purchases in Virginia. You may recall my statements on this issue after the Governor announced a deal with Amazon last fall. The bill has now passed and was sent to the Governor. This will level the playing field for local retailers and provide some additional revenue to help fund schools, public safety, and human services.
I have also been pushing a bill that will allow us to evaluate tax preferences, many of which go to the largest corporations in Virginia, and which transfer billions of dollars that might otherwise be used to fund education and other core services through a process that is often not evaluated. This is not to say that some tax credits are not beneficial to the economy or assist in support of useful social policy. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, helps low and moderate income persons by allowing taxpayers to recover monies that they have already paid in taxes. The Land Preservation Tax Credit preserves thousands of acres of land in Virginia for future generations. Nonetheless, all tax credits should be subject to periodic evaluation to see whether they work for their intended purpose. As you are aware, I have been critical of the coal tax credit and believe that a full discussion of the value of that credit is justified.
My bill to assist Habitat for Humanity in negotiating of a land swap with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for land in the Biscuit Run Park has passed the Senate and hopefully will be signed by the Governor. HB1113 will permit Habitat to begin negotiations on a land exchange that will help the county and the region develop more recreation facilities south of the city and assist Habitat in the redevelopment of the Southwood Trailer Park.
We are scheduled to adjourn on March 10, 2012, but the budget negotiations could go on for awhile, so I will keep you informed of further developments.
P.S. For those interested in my statement on the arrests of protesters on Capitol grounds, you can view the clip here.