Published 2:57 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like there was going to be a battle among the Governor, the House, and the Senate over how to deal with revenue that should have been coming back to Virginia taxpayers because of the Trump Federal Tax Cuts. Instead of returning it to the taxpayers, the Governor proposed giving it to those who had not paid it. The House proposed to return the money in a plan that few understood. A small group of us in the Senate concluded that we had to have a plan that would be easy to understand and could give taxpayer relief this year and in years to come. We proposed returning almost a billion dollars over the next two years, half now and half next year.
Over the course of days, every Democrat that originally opposed it, supported it. Most all of the House liked our plan over theirs and supported it. Finally, on Friday, the Governor signed it into law. Without his signature, the Tax Department was simply holding the tax returns of 900,000 Virginia families. Now they will process them as quickly as they can. This means the 4 million Virginians filing their income taxes between now and May 1 will be receiving a rebate check of $110 ($220 for couples) this fall. And when families prepare their personal income tax forms next year, their tax burden will be lower because the plan we approved increased the standard deduction by 50 percent – the first change in 30 years.
With all sides now agreeing on how much Virginia’s government has to spend, resolving the differences between the House and Senate on changes in the budget should go smoothly.
One issue we’ve been tackling this session is the rising cost of health care and health care coverage. Combined, Senate Republicans filed 33 bills to address rising health care costs in Virginia this session.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (more commonly referred to as “Obamacare”), millions of Americans – especially those who had always purchased their own coverage – have found health care coverage offered on the exchange unaffordable. Premiums that used to be in the low hundreds of dollars doubled and, in some cases, tripled. Deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses went from $1,000 or $2,000 annually to $5,000 and $6,000.
Virginia is not without options. The federal government has offered states some flexibility to give their citizens greater choice at lower cost. Some of our neighboring states have taken advantage of some of these options, but Virginia has not. We’ve passed legislation to allow organizations and associations to pool together to offer lower cost group plans to their members or employees. A measure to allow more individuals to purchase lower cost catastrophic care plans won widespread, bipartisan approval, too.
The affordability of health care is an issue that will not be solved easily. With gridlock over the issue in Washington, the General Assembly has a responsibility to ensure Virginians have access to every available option the federal government permits. We’ve been doing that and making many changes, which, if signed by the Governor, will make a positive difference for Virginians grappling with the rising costs of care and coverage.
Another big issue that faces rural counties is how to replace aging schools that need to be replaced. Other than special legislation for Halifax County, the only other that appears to be on target is my legislation that would change the Literary Fund. My proposal changes the program from lending cash for construction to a grant program that would reduce the interest rate. It will not be funded as I had hoped, but it would be a start in helping poorer school systems.
The session ends this coming Saturday. In the coming weeks, I look forward to a recap of other legislation that might affect your life.
Frank Ruff represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@ verizon.net.