End of Session Report by Bill Stanley

Senator William Stanley’s End of Session Report:

The 2011 Session of the General Assembly has finally come to a close.  One of the last major items of business was the final negotiations regarding this year’s state budget.  After many long days (and nights) of negotiating, the House of Delegates and State Senate voted unanimously to approve the budget.  As I had reported earlier, the Senate had passed its version of the budget, with the House passing its own version.  From those two budget proposals, a compromised budget was reached between both bodies, but only after lengthy negotiations that extended the General Assembly session into the weekend.  I’m pleased to report that the budget compromise made some needed additions to public education, health and human resources, public safety, economic development, and judicial vacancies.  As each of us must live within our means, we approved a state budget that does just that. This was accomplished by taking advantage of existing revenues and applying revenue growth from 2011 to enhance certain programs.

There were four key points in this budget that we worked hard to ensure that Virginians were put first: no new taxes or unnecessary user fees, put Virginia’s fiscal house in order, create the environment for the creation of jobs by strengthening Virginia’s businesses, and address our significant transportation needs.
I have heard from many of my fellow citizens regarding transportation issues and their desire to learn more about Governor McDonnell’s Transportation Agenda.  This plan, which the General Assembly approved with significant bi-partisan support, will allow more than 900 shovel-ready projects to begin construction within the next three years. These monies are the first significant investment towards transportation in over a decade, without raising our taxes.   Recent studies have shown that this transportation package will create more than 100,000 new jobs in Virginia over the next six years, and will pump over thirteen billion dollars in the state economy.  Some have voiced concerns about the part of the plan that utilizes $3 billion in state bonds to fund transportation projects, worrying that this is a significant incurring of new debt.  The belief that this is somehow “new” debt is not correct.  Rather, this is the acceleration and use of bonds that were issued back in 2007; there is no new debt in the transportation bill, and includes a dedicated funding stream to pay the required debt service.  Plus, this is a good time to utilize these bonds and to engage in road and infrastructure building, because interest rates are at historic lows and bids for construction projects have never been more affordable, with bids coming in for projects at between 20 to 30% below estimates for these projects.  The plan will save Virginia significant money in years ahead by securing good prices today.  Some have also been concerned that the majority of the projects will be in the northern and eastern parts of the state.  While there are higher dollar projects in those areas, the majority of the projects in the plan benefit southern and southwest Virginia, including many in our area.
Economic Development:
Ten million dollars was provided for various tax-credit incentive programs. Additionally, my bill, Senate Bill 1379 (Stanley) is a bill that will be a great economic benefit to our area. It was heard by and passed unanimously out of the Senate Finance Committee, and was passed in both chambers unanimously.  Currently, Virginia has what is called the “Governor’s Economic Opportunity Fund,” which provides financial incentives in the form of financial grants or interest-free loans to businesses that re-locate their operations to Virginia. It is a great tool for localities to attract jobs and corporations to their area. However, the criteria by which these incentives would be made available tended to exclude our area from this benefit, because population, and not fiscal stress or need for employment of an area, was the deciding factor. The criteria for qualifying businesses set the bar too high for small businesses to benefit from the Economic Development Fund. Currently, a business must promise to bring 100 jobs and $10 million dollars in capital investment to Virginia in order to be eligible; my bill establishes a state-wide level of 50 new jobs and $5 million dollars in capital investment; and it reduces this level to 25 new jobs and 2.5 million dollars for localities, such as our area, that have a high employment rate or a high poverty rate, and further reduces the level to 15 jobs and 1.5 million dollars in new capital investment for localities that have both a high employment rate and a high poverty rate. We have to do all we can to attract new businesses, large and small so that we can bring new jobs and add sustainable economic growth to our area.  The Governor has stated that he will sign this bill into law.
Virginia Retirement System:
An accelerated payment of $42 million dollars is included towards paying off our VRS loan from 2010 early. In addition, a compromise was struck to have state employees contribute 5% towards their retirement, while off-setting their take-home pay by giving them a 5% raise. These two measures are essential steps towards keeping our retirement system financially secure.

Education:
The budget includes an additional $100 million for public colleges and universities, increasing financial aid and stabilizing tuition. It also adds an additional $75 million for K-12 public education.

Health Care:

Thirty million dollars was placed in a trust fund to address the Department of Justice’s concerns about our mental-health system. An additional $47 million was spent to restore waiver slots, respite-care hours, and other community-based services.  In addition, $64.5 million was added to restore reimbursements for Medicaid providers. This restoration of funding was important for our area because the healthcare industry is the second largest employer of our citizens in the 19th District.  A continued loss of this funding in this year’s budget would have resulted in the loss of many substantial and good paying jobs.

Public Safety:
The budget added back $6.0 million of a $12.0 million cut to sheriffs across Virginia and $12.4 million for local police departments. There was also a $3 million increase so state troopers can receive overtime pay rather than take compensatory leave.

Judicial Vacancies:
The compromise included funding to fill 21 vacant judge’s seats.
Illegal Immigration:
SB 1288 (McWaters), incorporated into SB 1049 (Barker), requires state contractors with over 50 employees, or $50,000 and above in contracts, to use the Federal E-Verify program to verify the work authorization of newly-hired employees. This change is a great protector of jobs and your tax dollars, as well as the small businesses who have been following the rules and employing United States citizens.
Patient Safety:
SB 924 (McDougle) was amended in the House of Delegates, adding a patient-safety measure to the bill. It requires the Board of Health to propagate regulations for clinics that perform abortions. These regulations will be similar to those required for facilities that perform outpatient procedures and surgeries. Democrats turned the debate towards abortion access rather than patient safety. This change is simply there to protect the women of our Commonwealth. I argued for these protections during the debate on the Senate floor. With the help of two Democrats and the Lieutenant Governor, the amendment passed the Senate 20-20 with the president of the senate voting yes, breaking the tie.
Property Rights:

Also passed was HJ 693 (Joannou), which clarifies that if a Virginian owns property, that property should not be taken away, unless there is an explicit public need, such as roads and utilities. This bill is an amendment to the state constitution, and is an important protection of our private property rights over government intrusion.  We will have to vote on this bill again next year, so it can be put to the voters for final approval in the year 2013.

Utility Rates:
Senate Bill 1382 (Stanley) is a bill that will benefit electricity rate payers like you and me by giving the Attorney General and the State Corporation Commission more time to consider, scrutinize and/or challenge any rate increase requests made by the electric utility companies.  Right now, the Attorney General’s office and the State Corporation Commission only have 6 months to review rate increase requests made by the utility companies; my bill gives them an extra 2 months in which to do so; and

Unfunded Mandates on Local Governments
Senate Bill 1472 (Stanley) is a bill that will make the state government provide a detailed cost-benefit analysis to our local governments regarding unfunded mandates that must include a justification of why the mandate should or should not be eliminated. This will lessen the burden and reduce the number of mandates placed upon our local governments that usually result in our property taxes increasing.

Finally, although the regular session of the General Assembly has adjourned, we have now commenced with the Special Session, where we will reconvene in April to determine the issue of redistricting, where we will re-draw the lines for the districts in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, as well as our eleven congressional districts.  Early indications demonstrate that the 19th Senate District will stay mainly intact, and I will fight to preserve our district as a strong voice for southern Virginia’s needs.

While we are out of session, I will still be working on any concerns that you may have.  Additionally, I will be meeting with leaders and business owners across the district to develop a specific legislative package for the 2012 legislative session that will benefit the citizens of our area, and will promote economic growth and job prosperity in Campbell, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, and the city of Danville.  You can always reach me here at my district office: 13508 Booker T. Washington Highway, Moneta, Va. 24121, or by phone (540) 721-1197; or you can write to me by e-mail at:  wstanley@senate.virginia.gov.

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