The Assembly Convenes
The 2016 General Assembly Session convened at noon on Wednesday, January 13, 2016.
The focus of the first day’s activity was the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address. Gov. McAuliffe gave an enthusiastic and optimistic speech centering on his goals for this session, including passing his two-year budget. Much of the next sixty days will focus on the budgetary priorities of the Governor and legislature. In addition, we will consider some 3,000 bills, which will run the gamut of whether we should designate a state reptile to the passage of $109 billion two-year budget.
This is Governor McAuliffe’s first two-year budget and it reflects his focus on building the new Virginia economy. There are proposals for substantial investments in job creation, workforce credentialing, and education. As many of you know, Virginia did not emerge from this recession as robustly as it has in years past, due primarily to federal sequestration and to cutbacks in federal dollars flowing to the Commonwealth in the form of defense and consulting contracts. Since the amount of federal dollars coming to the Commonwealth will not likely be restored to previous levels, the Governor is rightfully focused on increased diversification of our economy. He has proposed investing more money into the Port of Virginia, creating greater opportunities at institutions of higher education to commercialize creative ideas and get them to market, and providing funds for community colleges to train Virginia citizens to take the jobs of the future.
I strongly support the Governor’s priorities in this budget, including restoring much of the monies that were cut from education spending as a result of budgetary pressures of the last six years. The Governor wants to increase the number of teachers and provide them with raises. His budget includes $500 million to fund the “re-benchmarking for the standards of quality,” a phase we use to describe monies necessary to keep school resources at their present level. The Governor also proposes more spending on pre-K education and at our institutions of higher learning. I will support most all of it. The Governor includes initiatives designed to make Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the nation. We have made great strides in the last few years, including ending veterans’ homelessness in the Commonwealth and committing ourselves to building veteran care centers in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
Finally, there are many worthy new initiatives in the area of juvenile justice in the Governor’s budget and his legislative package. In Virginia we spend more than $140,000 per year to keep a youngster in a juvenile correction center. Almost 80 percent of those young people are re-arrestedwithin three years of being released. In fact, the research suggests that the longer a young person stays in a juvenile correction system, the more likely they are to re-offend when released. This is not a particularly good return on our investment. Consequently, there are proposals that take savings from closing several large juvenile facilities that either are in disrepair or are no longer needed because the population of juvenile detainees is declining, and reinvesting the savings in small facilities and in community-based corrections, an approach that many of us believe will give us greater opportunities to prevent recidivism among young people.
In my next update, I will provide you with a list of the bills that I have introduced for the session and others that I am especially watching that have some potential relevance for our community.