Senator McDougle Focuses on Difficult Budget Process and Key Legislation
Yesterday Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) made the difficult decision to vote against the biennial budget as proposed by his Senate Democrat colleagues. This year the state faces the most challenging budget dilemma in the modern era. As is the case throughout the country, the Commonwealth must contend with decreased revenue as businesses and citizens have struggled to maintain fiscal balance in this distressed economy. Senator McDougle decided to vote against the Senate version of the budget because it continues to fund recently-created programs and seeks to reverse sound policy in vital areas where public safety could be vulnerable.
Senator McDougle concedes that the Senate’s budget bill as passed made significant strides towards a balanced budget, but not enough. In particular, certain programs initiated during the past two administrations remain funded at levels commensurate with the higher revenue levels from those periods. “Obviously it is extremely difficult to reduce government programs so dramatically, however just as most Virginians have personally faced tough budget decisions, it is our responsibility to do the same,” said Senator McDougle. “The fact remains we simply cannot spend money that we don’t have. It’s a bad government habit that represents a long, slippery slope if we become accustomed to asking our citizens for more, especially when so many of them are earning less. It just doesn’t add up.”
The Senator is also deeply concerned about measures within the Senate budget amendments that challenge great gains made in public safety in past years by former Governor George Allen. According to a report written in 2001 called Truth-In-Sentencing in Virginia, “Truth-in-sentencing (TIS) is the most prominent sentencing reform movement of the 1990’s. The primary objective of TIS is to more closely align the sentence imposed by the judge with the actual amount of time served in prison by restricting or eliminating parole eligibility and good time. In many instances, these reforms are accompanied by significant increases in the penalties for violent offenders.”
The Senate budget language erodes Virginia’s truth-in-sentencing no parole reform policy and authorizes the use of alternative sentencing regardless of what was ordered by the Judge or Jury and expands early release provisions for certain inmates.
“Cuts to education, social and healthcare programs are problematic for all Virginians; however, safety must come first,” said Senator McDougle. “Law enforcement history is laden with tragic results of bad public safety policies established for the sake of misguided budget decisions.”
Senator McDougle Supports Fiscal Responsibility, Tax Incentive Legislation
In order to encourage more responsible state spending moving forward, the Senate passed Senate Bill 431, a bill that mandates certain reporting and absolute transparency in state agencies. The bill, which passed the Senate without opposition and now is working its way through the House, will require state agencies to maintain a transaction register including a complete record of all expenditures made with details such as the vendor’s name, date of payment and amount and description of the expense. It also requires posting of credit card reports for all state employees that have been issued one. “In keeping with our fresh approach of implementing best practices in our financial management for our state, this legislation provides for more accountability within our state agencies, making it clear what is being spent with our taxpayer’s valuable dollars,” Senator McDougle said.
Continuing its trend towards improving the environment for sound economic recovery, the Generally Assembly continues to pass meaningful legislation meant to provide tax relief to Virginia residents and businesses. Senate Bill 428, which recently passed through the Senate unanimously, is now swiftly moving in the House. The law would provide tax exemptions for capital gains for the amount taxed under federal income tax standards. “Anything the Virginia legislature can reasonably do to encourage private investment in Virginia right now is good government,” according to Senator McDougle.
Senate, House Pass Offshore Royalties Bill
On Monday the Senate approved a bipartisan bill, House Bill 756, meant to ensure that revenues received from future offshore oil exploration will be earmarked to two crucial areas: alternative energy research and Virginia’s transportation needs. Introduced in the House by Del. Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), the bill directs 70% of those revenues and royalties to the Transportation Trust Fund, the state’s road and rail fund; 10% to local transportation projects; and 20% to the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium. Although critics claim the measure is largely symbolic because any benefits are likely years away, Senator McDougle says the groundwork must be established early to ensure the state receives and allocates the future oil exploration revenues to critical areas. This action marks a shift of opinion from Democrat members, who less than a month ago voted on a purely party line vote to kill the Senate companion to this bill.
“While Virginia and nearly every other state in the country are plagued by budget problems, North Dakota is flush with a $600 million surplus due to their newfound oil development industry,” noted Senator McDougle. “Although their discovery was obviously under dry ground and easier to reach than offshore deposits, their story provides an excellent example of the dramatic benefits to states engaged in environmentally responsible oil exploration.”
Following Crossover, House Considers Common Sense Legislation Passed by Senate
Senator McDougle is pleased to see the House acting quickly on bi-partisan legislation already passed through the Senate:
Senate Bill 467 – Safeguards Virginia residents by requiring court officials to work directly with counter-part officials in other states to ensure that protective orders of the Commonwealth are executed elsewhere.
Senate Bill 55 – Extends the period to 45 days before an election for absentee ballots to be available and accepted, making it easier for temporarily out-of-state residents to vote. This law will support citizens away due to active duty military service, membership in the merchant marines, or in temporary residence outside of the country. Spouses are also included.