Part One: Virginia General Assembly 2020
If your first trip to the General Assembly this year is on the fast track, a quick overview of what’s happening can be found in a finance committee meeting. Many, but not all bills, will be attached to a cost and end up there, sometimes more than once, as bills make their way through the GA.
My husband Jeff and I arrived the evening of January 20th to an orderly Richmond with clean streets just after the Second Amendment rally.
The next morning, in what was certainly a change in the normal routine, we stood in line for about 20 minutes at the Pocahontas Building to be checked for weapons. We then headed for our Senator’s office, our home away from home during session. Assuming that Senator McDougle would be in his Senate Finance committee meeting, we headed there to find out later he had been abruptly taken off that committee last week without a reason. The Senator represents Caroline County in the 4th District.
This week McDougle proposed a bill with a large increase in broadband funding and was turned down in Finance and Appropriations. McDougle’s reasoning was that broadband is the major tool in the 21st Century fueling and driving education and economic development. He was making the case that an equal amount should be spent when considering other economic development funding. The bill read as follows:
Budget bill; broadband and economic development. Requires the Governor to include in the budget bill recommended appropriations for initiatives that promote and develop broadband infrastructure comparable to or greater than any recommended appropriations for economic development.
As we arrived at Senate Finance and Appropriations, Senator Richard Stuart (28th District) was presenting his SB 143 which again, in similar fashion to last year, seeks to give some return to localities for the income lost when the General Assembly gave disabled veterans and their spouses relief on real estate property taxes. The Stafford County Commissioner of the Revenue was there to explain that this now accounts for three percent of citizens in his county and accounts for substantial loss of revenue.
Some Senators seemed to be at loss as to why this would be a problem. This follows the thought process that when the General Assembly pulls a revenue stream locally, a magical one is there to take its place. Some said they did not remember the passage two years ago as mandatory. One Senator pointed out it was mandatory until it was not mandatory, and then was changed yet again and passed as mandatory. Another Senator pointed out that perhaps they needed to think about what happens to local budgets when they pass bills like this and actually said that they feel good when they pass things of this nature, but ended with “the burden is passed to localities.” Sigh…….
Jeff, who is chairman of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors this year, spoke in favor of Senator Stuart’s bill pointing out that while Caroline is not at the three percent mark yet, it does have an impact on the county budget, and while he has no problem with relief for disabled veterans, it would be great to have some compensation from the state.
While the Commonwealth has numerous revenue streams, the main funding mechanism for localities is real estate taxes. This is how counties, cities, and towns forecast budgets and pay salaries to their employees and provide other services for their citizens. Jeff also mentioned that in Caroline one cent of real estate equals $250,000 as compared to surrounding localities which are a million-plus. I am not entirely sure every Senator understood this basic concept of local government as they seemed particularity puzzled by this statement.
The Senate finance committee passed by this bill for another year. For what it’s worth, unfunded mandates to localities are truly bi-partisan, no matter who controls the General Assembly. Both Republicans and Democrats balance their budgets, give unfunded mandates, and tax relief by passing the cost on to local government.
In Part Two, I look at legislation from Senator Bryce Reeves, Senator Emmett Hanger and Senator Louise Lucas.