On Friday, February 5, 2010, the General Assembly, for the first time in at least 50 years, cancelled its regular Session because of the snowstorm. I sympathize with those of you who were without power and substantially inconvenienced over the past few days and I trust schools will reopen soon. Considering what happened in Northern Virginia, where approximately 37 inches fell on the Front Royal area and 33 inches fell in Fairfax, Charlottesville and Albemarle were lucky in this storm. Recovering from aftermath will be challenging, and I hope that we will be patient as our state and local public works employees attempt to remove the snow and help us return to some degree of normality.
The VDOT budget for snow removal is now exhausted for this year. VDOT will now invade a $25 million “rainy day” fund that would otherwise have gone for maintenance. This will simply exacerbate the problems that we already have in our Transportation Trust Fund, and there is little evidence that either the Governor or the General Assembly will do much, if anything, to replenish this account.
On the budgetary front, Governor McDonnell remains relatively invisible at this point. Newly-elected Governors typically submit budget amendments early in a Session that reflect their priorities. For whatever reason, Governor McDonnell has stayed on the sidelines. We have heard rumors that he may submit some budget amendments in the next week or so, but some people are beginning to believe that he will leave the House Republicans to make the additional $2 billion in cuts rather than take a position as to his priorities. We will simply have to see.
The other major issue heating up Richmond and our area has to do with the effort by Delegate Bell to get around the City/County Revenue Sharing Agreement through a budget amendment that will simply transfer $2.6 million from City schools to County schools. For those of you not familiar with the Revenue Sharing Agreement, it was negotiated in the early 1980s in the context of a possible City annexation of County property. The agreement was supported by both governing bodies, and then submitted for a referendum to City and County voters, where it passed by wide margins in both localities. Now, there is an effort in the General Assembly by modifying the composite index formula by which schools are funded to acknowledge the percentage of County property tax given to the City through the Agreement and transfer the difference from the City to the County.
Such a transfer would greatly impact City schools. It represents an amount equal to over 4 cents on the real estate tax rate. If not replaced, the cut would likely increase pupil-teacher ratios and might cause layoffs. And make no mistake about it – such an amendment simply undercuts an agreement that was negotiated by the elected officials in both jurisdictions and approved by the voters. At the time the agreement was signed, the composite index had been in effect for a number of years, and it was referenced directly in the City-County agreement. What the General Assembly is now considering doing is what it typically does not do; that is, undermining a contract between jurisdictions, passed by both elected bodies and the voters. This would be unprecedented and would be of extreme concern to all jurisdictions that have revenue sharing agreements or long term contractual obligations.
I believe that the City and the County have to do much more in the area of consolidation and cooperation and that the way to address our problems is through cooperation rather than division. The Revenue Sharing Agreement has worked well for the community. If it had not been approved, the City would have annexed substantial real estate, and generated revenue much in excess of what it receives yearly from Albemarle. Albemarle, to replace this revenue, would likely have had to expand commercial development into the rural areas of the County, which few in our area would have liked. Consequently, I will be asking City and County leaders to convene a summit related to inter-jurisdictional cooperation in hopes that we may find some long-term solutions to some of our challenging budgetary issues. This is what we have always done in our area, and we do not need to have the General Assembly dictating how we should resolve our problems.
In other news, my bill that would have expanded health insurance benefits to dependents under the age of 27 who continue to reside with their families received a boost by being referred to what is called the Mandated Benefits Commission so that the state can evaluate the impact of this potential change. This bill would benefit a group of citizens who are not typically insured with little cost to either the Commonwealth or insurance companies.
Three of my four energy bills received a hearing in the subcommittee on energy on Tuesday, and I will report their outcome in my next update.
Please feel free to keep me informed of your concerns and to provide imput on any bills that you are watching this Session. It is pleasure serving you as your delegate.