We returned to the special session in Richmond on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, to debate the House Budget. The House budget includes Medicaid Expansion, which accesses federal dollars that are incorporated into our budget so that we can fund critical needs of the Commonwealth while insuring some 400,000 Virginians who do not yet have coverage. The House budget passed with a strong bipartisan majority. It is time to pass Medicaid Expansion in Virginia. We now await Senate action on our budget. This could stretch the process into the early part of May – or even longer. The budget will eventually be resolved through a Conference Committee composed of members of the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees. It is important to get a budget sooner rather than later because so many of our local governments depend on knowing what state dollars are coming to them in order to prepare their own budgets. We also have critical state functions to fund, including environmental protection, State Police, health care, and prisons. I will continue to fight to include Medicaid Expansion in the final budget.
We then met the next day, Wednesday, April 18, for the reconvened, or “veto” session, where we considered the Governor’s vetoes to measures passed during our regular Session as well as recommendations that he made to various bills. The Governor’s vetoes were all sustained.
Most of these bills had previously been vetoed by Governor McAuliffe, and there was little surprise as to the outcome. In fact, many patrons of the bills did not even ask for a vote, certain that they could not assemble the two-thirds majority vote required to overturn the Governor’s vetoes.
Redistricting Recommendation Rebuffed
In addition to the vetoes, the Governor made recommendations to other bills, most of which were accepted. One set of recommendations that failed included new criteria for how we conduct Redistricting in the Commonwealth. The Governor proposed that Redistricting not occur in a way that protects incumbents or any one political party, and that legislative districts be contiguous and reflect communities of interest. Many of us have fought for these changes for years, but have continuously been rebuffed by Republicans. The Governor’s recommendations were defeated on a party-line vote of 51-48.
Coal Tax Credit—Again
Another area of dispute involved reinstating the Coal Tax Credit. I have argued against this credit for years. Since the mid-1980s, Virginia has provided large tax credits to coal and utility companies designed to spur coal production and job creation. During this time, $750 million of our tax dollars have been transferred to these companies. We have little to show for it. Employment in the coal fields is now fewer than 3,000, a drop of almost 9,000 since the tax credits took effect, and coal production has dropped by over 67 percent during this time. The coal industry is being undermined by market forces out of its control. The cost of natural gas and solar has dropped dramatically and technological innovations have drastically cut employment. Sending more Virginia tax dollars to these companies will do little good. Our dollars would go farther if they were invested in schools and new industries in coal country. You can watch my speech on the Coal Tax Credit here.
The Governor now must decide whether to veto the bill; if he does not, it will become law and revive the coal tax credit for five years.
Funding the METRO
Finally, for those interested in transportation and mass transit in the Commonwealth, we arrived at a solution to fund Virginia’s share of maintenance and repairs for METRO, though it was not exactly the solution I supported. The House rejected taxing northern Virginia residents, choosing instead to fund part of the initiative with state transportation monies. This approach may have the effect of diminishing monies for transportation initiatives throughout the state, including some in our area.
I will next return to Richmond on Thursday, April 26, 2018, in my role as a member of the Select Committee on School Safety. I will be sharing some thoughts on this issue very soon. I visited two schools in Albemarle County last week and will be conducting similar visits shortly in Charlottesville. The goal of these visits is to determine how we can make schools safer. While the data generally supports the view that schools are safe places for children to be, anxieties have increased in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings, and we should be looking for new ways to ensure that our schools are safe for our children, teachers, and administrators. But as we deal with school safety, we must recognize that it is only one piece of a larger discussion we need to be having about gun safety in our communities. It is for this reason that House Democrats have created a task force on gun safety, which will convene meetings and public hearings around the Commonwealth this summer and fall to build support for common sense gun safety legislation that can be enacted by the General Assembly. If you have any ideas on these issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Town Hall Meeting
State Senator Creigh Deeds will join me at a Joint Legislative Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, April 25 at Monticello High School from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. I hope you will come. We will be discussing this year’s General Assembly, as well as more about the Special Session and answering questions. Also, if you would like to contact me, please call my Charlottesville office at (434) 220-1660 to schedule an appointment or to speak by phone.