Opinion — More input should have been given on spending proposals

Published 10:37 am Friday, August 13, 2021

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Our representative form of government has served our nation well.

Legislators are among those they represent and understand their issues. Those are the issues that legislators should bring to the Capitol for discussion and debate.

In the budgeting process, the governor is responsible to propose, the legislature is responsible for refining that proposed budget. The thinking is that the governor is most knowledgeable of the innerworkings of the needs of the bureaucracy, while we are responsible for understanding the needs of the people. Regrettably, that is not what happened.

Last winter, all legislators agreed that the governor should not have sole determination of federal dollars that were coming to Virginia for the problems created by COVID and the disruption it has created for various aspects of our economy. Therefore, he was instructed by the General Assembly to call a special session for the General Assembly’s approval of his plan.

The amount involved was $4.3 billion.

Some of his proposals made sense, while others were purely political. Most interesting was that he proposed not telling us his plans for spending $800 million but rather giving him full discretion to when and how to spend those dollars. Considering some of the political projects he funded, it is very likely that he will include more pork projects in those House of Delegates districts that appear close in the final weeks before the November election.

My priorities were broadband access, rebuilding the Unemployment Trust Fund, and helping small business that has been devastated over the last 18 months. I agree with some of the issues he funded, but we were cut off from any serious debate about how he determined the right dollar amount for those universally agreed upon issues.

In the house, they were informed that no changes would be accepted. In the Senate, the Democrat leadership realized that this was counter to the way in which representative government works.

At the last minute they allowed senators the opportunity to offer amendments. However, as the process began, a Northam loyalist moved that debate on each issue would be limited to three minutes on each side of each issue. This meant that there was limited debate on some very important issues.

Consider the issue of broadband. There was an amendment to increase the amount to deal with the need in rural areas. There was no time to debate how the governor decided on $700 million, nor what was needed to accomplish the goal of universal service.

The highest issues, other than those mentioned above, were the following: law enforcement, mental health, emergency services, and care for the elderly. The governor made no effort to deal with any of these issues, only promises of sometime. Consider the problems that we are having today.

Law enforcement is currently facing issues from all sides. Morale is at a record low. Their pay, which was below comparable work and risk, is being eaten up by inflation. Because of pay and morale issues, it is difficult to recruit and train replacements. Departments are down over 20% of their needs. To cite examples, for every trooper we are able hire and train, we lose two to retirement or simply going to better paying occupations.

Sheriff and police departments are not only short staffed, but far too many officers are required to hold those with mental health issues because the state mental facilities are refusing to accept more patients because of their staffing and training issues. Often, several officers are off the street because of this issue. This leaves criminals in control of the streets which explains higher murder rates.

Fire and rescue squads are facing the same issues of dealing with those suffering from mental crisis issues. As jobs were lost, too many have turned to drugs resulting in more overdoses and accidents. Meanwhile, because of federal policies, the price of fuel has almost doubled in the last six months.

Those who serve our fragile seniors must spend far more to protect their residents with fewer employees and no increase in funding.

There may be problems in a democrat republic, but I fully believe that those listening to constituents are more aware of the needs of the people than a governor sitting in an office at the Capitol isolated from the people.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.