As the second week of session winds down, I’d like to update you on what’s shaping up to be an interesting, if challenging, session.
As a result of declining revenues and the economic downturn, we will make difficult choices this session and will have to adopt painful cuts. These decisions will not be popular and I know that I won’t enjoy them, but I firmly believe that the only clear path to growth and prosperity is to preserve Virginia’s well-deserved reputation as a great state in which to do business, and to avoid imposing new tax burdens on our hard-working citizens and the businesses which serve as engines of growth and development.
On Monday evening, Governor McDonnell delivered his State of the Commonwealth address a joint assembly of the legislature. It was his second major address in three days, coming on the heels of his stirring inaugural address, and he won’t get to let up yet: our new governor is delivering the response to the State of the Union Address next week.
In his State of the Commonwealth Address, McDonnell expressed his understanding that we can’t tax our way out of this recession. He talked about transportation, economic development, and the need for significant funding cuts. Our challenge is to make these reductions as painless as possible, while recognizing that no one will be spared entirely.
I look forward to working with the Governor, and I’ve been working to find ways to give localities and essential service providers the tools they need to get through the rough patch. I know the importance of ensuring that each child receives a quality education, so I have worked with my local school boards to develop a legislative package that provides school divisions with greater flexibility to use state dollars where they are needed the most urgently. If schools have to be asked to do more with less, the least we can do is make sure they can use state funding in the classroom, putting more money toward instruction and less toward legislators’ pet projects.
I also recognize how critical it is that we maintain our transportation infrastructure. The transportation budget has taken a beating these past few years, and we haven’t turned the corner yet, but when we do, I want to make sure that transportation has a place at the table, which is why I’ve introduced legislation proposing that once we’re well on the road to economic recovery and have enjoyed a degree of revenue growth, an additional half a penny of the sales tax will be dedicated to transportation. This won’t take anything from other agencies or programs – the allocation is made out of revenue growth – but it’s a way to ensure that transportation isn’t neglected as our economy ultimately recovers.
We may only have a week and a half of session behind us, but the foolishness starts early: on Monday, a “dangerous dog” bill went down – thankfully – to defeat. Nobody likes a dangerous dog, but had this bill passed, any dog that reasonably induced fear that it may attempt to attack or inflict injury would constitute a dangerous dog. What would that entail? Growling? Tugging on a leash and barking?
The other day, Governor McDonnell announced, in keeping with his campaign promise, that all of the closed rest areas will reopen by April 15th. Studies show that rest areas decrease the accident rate by nearly 4%, and they help get parked trucks off exit ramps, where they pose a serious hazard. Reopening the rest areas has been one of my priorities since their politically motivated closure, and I’m pleased to be able to report that we’re on track to make our interstates safer and more inviting.
Elsewhere, in a political stunner, Republican Scott Brown won a special election and will be the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. I’ll put it this way: when Massachusetts is a little unsure about President Obama’s agenda, it’s not too hard to figure out where everyone else is.
I’ll close this already long update with a list of a few of the bills I’ve introduced this session. You can find all of my bills listed here.
Closing the Triggerman Loophole (SB 7)
Under the current law, prosecutors cannot seek a charge of capital murder if a criminal defendant who willfully and deliberately participated in a premeditated murder did not actually pull the trigger. It is a distinction unheard of in common law and unknown to Virginian law until 1979, and my bill would bring Virginia in line with the majority of states who make no such distinction.
Transportation Trust Fund (SB 132)
This proposal ensures that future revenue growth is set aside for transportation projects by permanently moving a half cent of the existing sales tax to the TTF.
Tax Credits for Donations to Nonprofits (SB 133)
This bill establishes tax credits for businesses that donate to nonprofit organizations providing educational funding – the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.
Voter Identification Requirements (SB 134)
This bill aims to curb election fraud by requiring that voters show some form of identification when voting.
In God We Trust License Plates (SB 136)
Authorizes the issuance of special “In God We Trust” license plates.
Audit of Transportation Programs (SB 351)
This legislation requires a performance audit of VDOT by a private auditing firm. Given dramatic decline in transportation funding, reprioritization is essential, and an outside performance audit will help the Transportation secretariat institute best practices, reduce overhead, eliminate inefficiencies and redundancies, and determine which functions can be privatized cost-effectively.
Privatization of ABC Stores (SB 443)
Providing for regional auctions of licenses for the private retail sale of alcoholic beverages in lieu of state-run ABC stores. This proposal has been adopted by the Governor as a major component of his government reform and transportation agendas.
Eminent Domain Reform (SJ 27)
A constitutional amendment that would limit the exercise of eminent domain for the purpose of public use. It specifies that, with the exception of property taken for public service corporations, public service companies, or railroads, property may not be taken if the primary purpose of the taking is private financial gain, private benefit, an increase in tax base or tax revenues, or an increase in employment.
Education Bills (SB 135, SB 352, SB 353, and budget amendment)
Legislation easing the burden on local school divisions by granting them greater flexibility to spend state-provided funding on their most urgent priorities.
I look forward to keeping in touch with you as session proceeds, and I hope you’ll keep in touch as well, as I always enjoy hearing from my constituents.
Virginia State Senator
P.S. If you have not yet taken my constituent survey, please do so at www.markobenshain.com today!