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Legislative Update 3.2.12

 The fight over Virginia’s two year budget has now taken center stage of the 2012 Virginia General Assembly.  The even 20-20 division in the Senate has resulted in a failure of that body to approve a budget of its own or the one sent to it by the House of Delegates.  When both of those measures failed in the Senate, Virginia was left without a vehicle upon which to construct a new two year spending plan.  That puts us, as before, on the road to government shutdown on June 30 when the provisions of our last two year budget expire.  This also places Virginia’s Counties, Cities, and Towns in a difficult budgetary situation as they must act and prepare their budgets as well. 

In order to avoid not having at least a means by which a budget can be crafted should the stalemate in the Senate resolve, the chairman of House Appropriations asked for unanimous consent of the House of Delegates to reintroduce the House Budget Bill on Thursday, March 1.  The unanimous consent was granted, the bill, following legislative procedures, was referred to the Appropriations Committee which met immediately upon adjournment of the House to report out the bill.  This version is the same version passed by the House of Delegates several weeks ago and is the amended version of Governor McDonnell’s introduced budget which was an $85 billion dollar two year spending plan for the Commonwealth.  This reintroduced budget will no doubt handedly pass the House of Delegates and be sent on to the Senate in hopes that it will provide a point of discussion for them by which they can produce a budget of their own and send the bill into a Committee of Conference where a handful of Delegates and Senators will hammer out a spending bill hopefully all by March 10th when we are scheduled to adjourn the 2012 Virginia General Assembly.  While the House Appropriations Committees Amendments to the Governor’s budget improved upon that budget, it embarked upon the unwise path of transferring our General Fund Monies which have traditionally been used to support core Government services such as Public Safety and K-12 Public Education over to Transportation Maintenance.  The budget passed by the Senate Finance Committee but not adopted by the full Senate because of the budgetary stalemate did not transfer funds from the General Fund into Transportation but did provide more funding for Transportation Maintenance by adopting an index formula for Virginia’s 17 1/2 cent gas tax.  The formula provides for a July 1 look back to the previous July 1 an adjustment to the gas tax based upon an inflationary factor using the index.  The inflationary factor would be applied to the 17 ½ cent gas tax, not to the price of a gallon of gas.  This is a common sense measure which frankly should have been adopted in 1986, the last time Virginia adjusted its gas tax, and results in “stopping the bleeding” as to the purchasing power of gas tax dollars going forward.  Funding for the Spaceport, a priority of the McDonnell Administration, remains a chip on the table should the players ever reach the table. 

We have spent an incredible amount of time and garnered an unfortunate amount of national media attention debating and considering very contentious social legislation on issues which history have shown to irresolvable in a legislature and which are best left to theologians, philosophers, and medical ethicists. This applies to both parties on both sides of these issues.  We have real problems in the Commonwealth which our part-time citizen legislature needs to focus on in the short time each year we are actually in session.  Budgetary wrangling used to be a very rare occurrence in the Commonwealth and in my relatively brief tenure in the House of Delegates is fast becoming the norm.  The tension of the budgetary crisis and the intense atmosphere of the social issue debate leads at least to this legislator to look forward to adjournment on March 10, hopefully. 

Please feel free to contact me on any issue as it is important to me in my representation of our district to hear from the people that I represent.  We will be in Richmond until March 10.  Please feel free to contact my office at (804) 698-1000 or delllewis@house.virginia.gov. 

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