Delegate Mark Cole on the Opening of the 2017 General Assembly
The 2017 General Assembly session has officially begun! This year will be a short session (46 days) as our primary responsibility is to make adjustments to our biennial budget. However, we are still putting forth a breadth of legislative proposals aimed at creating jobs, improving healthcare costs, transportation, and creating more educational opportunities. There is a lot before us this year, but we will be focused on doing the work of the people!
The House was officially gaveled into session on Wednesday, January 11th at 12 noon. A new transparency measure was announced on the first day: the video archiving of each day’s session. The new archive, available from the Virginia General Assembly website (http://virginia-house.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3 ) , will allow the public to view the floor proceedings of the House during the 2017 session on demand. The House also has created a search feature that will allow viewers to search by bill or by member.
The House is committed to building on our previous advances in improved transparency (i.e 2 day waiting period before voting on budget and prohibiting committee meetings held at member desks on the chamber floor). We take public access to the legislative proceedings seriously.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Later that evening, Governor McAuliffe delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth Address. As this is McAuliffe’s final year in office, a great deal of his speech was a review of his time as Governor.
Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva (Virginia Beach) and Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) delivered the Republican perspective on the State of the Commonwealth (http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a8970db37d2569f1a2b65e59d&id=279757dd63&e=21141571ad ). They reminded us that with last November’s elections, there are big changes coming to our nation’s Capitol. Some of these changes, like rebuilding our national defense and including coal in a comprehensive approach to energy independence, will greatly benefit Virginia.
In August of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced over a $1 billion shortfall. The shortfall is a result of a lagging economy that generated less tax revenue than expected. Unfortunately, the “New Virginia” economy Governor McAuliffe is always championing has been steadily replacing high paying full time jobs with lower paying part time jobs. Virginia’s economy has lost more than 4,000 jobs, weekly wages are down, and part-time employees are up by more than 20,000 since 2015.
However, unlike Washington, Virginia’s constitution requires a balanced budget. Last month Governor McAuliffe unveiled his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The Governor’s budget proposal is just the first step in a long process. It is now time for the House to develop our budget. Our goal is to craft a responsible, conservative budget that strategically invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources. We will invest in key priorities, but we must do so in a fiscally prudent manner.
Transportation continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, had significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.
In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, in 2006, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.
During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds. In 2008 we restored $180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.
Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $1.4 billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.
In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jumpstarted over 900 projects around Virginia.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.
Last year we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion. Total funding for transportation is $13.4 Billion over the biennium. We also passed my House Bill 97 which directs the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I95.
Our transportation problems are not just due to a lack of funding. A big part of the problem is all the bureaucratic hurdles that must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do road projects have to go through VDOT in Richmond for approval, but Washington also gets involved in most projects. Major projects must be reviewed and approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to get all the approvals needed to proceed.
I encourage you to keep in touch with me over the coming months. I value the feedback you provide as it helps me do a better job of representing you. Also keep in touch on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/markcoleva ) or Twitter ( https://twitter.com/MarkColeVA ).
Virginia House of Delegates, 88th District
Spotsylvania, Stafford, Fredericksburg, and Fauquier
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are those of Delegate Cole, and not necessarily those of Fredericksburg.Today.