Commentary: Negotiating a State Budget

Commentary: Negotiating a State Budget

Week Six of the General Assembly brought us to the midpoint of session, completion of work on all bills in our own chambers, and announcement of the proposed House and Senate budgets.

Twenty-one of my bills “crossed over” to the House of Delegates including several this week. First, my legislation continuing the moratorium on permitting the closure of coal ash ponds was continued for 14 months so the legislature could have more time to gather information.

Most other states have moved towards recycling coal ash into products such as bricks and concrete instead of burying it in the ground for eternity. Dominion has estimated that recycling will cost $4-8 billion but the recycling community contends that is greatly overstated. My bill requires Dominion to seek specific recycling proposals from coal ash recyclers and to pass proposals along to the legislature so we can consider the actual cost of recycling next year. It is important that we have correct information before we decide to make a decision that will pass along over a billion dollars of cost to electricity ratepayers.

Second, my legislation to place a 36 percent interest rate cap on consumer finance lenders passed the full Senate on a 37-2 vote after going back and forth to committee on a long journey. The bill faces a committee that has already approved a hostile bill in the House of Delegates, but I am hopeful that we can work out a compromise. Online lenders charging effective interest rates as high at 900 percent are currently attempting to use consumer finance licenses and we need to shut this down.

Third, my legislation to require Northern Virginia school districts to waive all fees and provide computers to children taking online classes passed the full Senate unanimously. No child who cannot pay $5 for a lunch should be required to purchase a computer or pay over $300 to take an online class and utilize the same public school opportunities that wealthy children use to get ahead for college.

Fourth, my legislation to create a settlement structure including state compensation to facilitate compensation to four men known as the “Norfolk Four” passed the Senate. All four men were coerced into confessing to a rape they did not commit by a detective who is now incarcerated and knew the identity of the actual rapist. Each spent over a decade in jail and another eight years of “freedom” while still having to live on the Sex Offender Registry.

The last bill we passed was Senator Saslaw’s bill to create a framework to supplement capital funding to Metro and match monies provided by the District of Columbia and Maryland. The bill corrects a technical error from 2013 and imposes a “floor” on gas tax collections which have declined due to lower gas prices. It takes $20 million per year from allocations to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (instead of over $100 million proposed by the governor). It also imposes a new $0.10 per $100 grantors tax on the sale of real property, and a 2 percent tax on hotel stays.

On Sunday, the Senate and House announced their respective budgets. Surprisingly, the House of Delegates’ budget included an expansion of Medicaid, albeit with a work requirement, while the Senate budget contained no expansion. Because of this, the Senate bill was forced to cut over $500 million from the budget to make up for the lost revenue. Both budgets also cut $190,000 of funding for a derelict barge in Belmont Bay that I have been working for three years to get removed.

On the good side, the Senate budget included funding for new staff for Widewater State Park in the 36th District which currently has none. Both budgets also increase secondary education money to Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties by nearly $170 million over the biennium.

Each chamber will vote their budget amendments on Thursday and then the budget will be negotiated over the next two weeks.

You can reach me at It is an honor to serve as your state senator.