Virginia becomes center of the news world
Published 2:43 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Because of a bizarre and unexpected series of events, the entire national press corps has descended upon the Capitol. Being in the place where things are happening should make it more likely we’d be the first to learn about new developments in the ongoing saga. However, legislators are receiving information about the many twists and turns of the events engulfing our three statewide elected public officials the same time you are. What is most fascinating is to what ends these reporters will go to ask us of our opinions and our thoughts on everything except our focus on the budget and legislation.
With just two weeks remaining in the General Assembly session, we can’t afford to become wrapped up in the latest developments or revelations. We are focused on presenting our own bills to our House colleagues, reviewing theirs, and crafting a budget that includes $1 billion in tax relief for Virginia taxpayers. That focus was essential this last week as we completed crossover and passed the Senate package of amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget.
We are delighted that the Governor, Senate Democrats, and Republican House leaders understood that the Senate budget is the best way to serve the people of Virginia. If the full House accepts that position, you will be able to file your state taxes this month as well as expect a tax rebate later in the year. It also increases the standard deduction by 50 percent for 2019.
Placing a priority on strengthening our public schools, the Senate approved the funds necessary to cover the state share of expenses for a 5 percent raise in teacher pay. It included $4 million in additional funding for our successful Fast Forward Workforce Credential Grants, which are making it possible for thousands of Virginians to become certified in high-demand, high-paying fields.
We added over $25 million in additional funding for behavioral health and reserved $70 million for the Literary Fund to provide support for school construction. And, we invested millions more to accelerate the availability of broadband in rural areas.
We’re producing a conservative, balanced budget that will protect our AAA bond rating, invest in our future, and provide working families with nearly $1 billion in tax relief.
LEGISLATION FOR SCHOOLS
I am most proud that the full Senate overwhelmingly agreed with my proposal of assisting counties as they attempt to build new schools. Traditionally, schools borrowed from the Literary Fund for construction. The fund receives fines from such things as speeding tickets. A couple of decades ago, counties started writing those tickets on local ordinances that matched the state law. This diverted those fines to local government, reducing greatly the funds going into the Literary Fund. My legislation allows counties to borrow the capital needed for construction and use the Literary Fund to buy down the interest by receiving grants. The amount of the grants would relate to the lack of resources of a county. This method, if agreed to in the House, can assist far more school systems as they address the issue of replacing schools that are no longer functional.
Additionally, I am delighted that the Fast Forward Workforce Training that I pushed for the last several years has proved to be as effective as I had expected and is paying for itself by increased earning for more skilled workers. My effort this year is legislation to create more opportunities in the skills needed for cyber technology, computer engineering and related skills. Currently, we are short tens of thousands of folks with the skills needed for jobs available today.
With just two weeks remaining, there’s a lot of work to finish before we can adjourn Feb. 23. If you want to contact us about an issue or legislation being considered, send us an email at District15@senate. virginia.gov or call us at (804) 698-7515.
Although you’ll have to rely on the news media, both local and national, to fill you in on the latest developments for our three statewide officials, I’ll provide more information on our continued legislative progress in next week’s column. Until then, have a great week.
Frank Ruff represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@ verizon.net.