Money dominates General Assembly

Money dominates General Assembly

Money dominates General Assembly

Print
Email
|

by Bob Lewis

WVEC.com

Posted on January 8, 2012 at 5:37 PM

   RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Somehow, Virginia's General Assembly and Gov. Bob McDonnell have to come up with billions of dollars more for Medicaid, for keeping the state's aging roads passable and to keep the pension system for Virginia's public employees solvent.
 
   Along the way, they have to hope that a fragile and jittery global economy doesn't falter and leave the state treasury billions short of its budgeted needs in passing the most essential bill of the 2012 session: the state budget.
 
   There have been more daunting budgets. Two years ago, Virginia was still fighting to keep its finances in the black after a crippling recession -- the worst since the Great Depression -- produced combined shortfalls totaling nearly $7 billion since 2007.
 
   But the demands in the two-year, $85 billion appropriations blueprint McDonnell submitted last month are staggering: $650 million more for increased use of Medicaid, despite nearly $259 million in savings from not covering Medicaid inflation costs or replacing $108 million on discontinued federal stimulus cash; $1.2 billion more for the a Virginia Retirement System facing unfunded liabilities of more than $20 billion; and $438 million more for public schools, not counting cuts to the stipend school districts could use for non-teaching staff.
 
   "This problem is so severe I will not pass it on to another governor," McDonnell said of his plan to commit a record state amount as an employer contribution into the troubled VRS and force local governments to kick in $1 billion of their own. What he hasn't disclosed yet is whether he will demand that state employees contribute to their own pensions for the first time in 28 years.
 
   Six years ago Virginia raked in revenue surpluses faster than it could spend them, with an economy supercharged by a hyper-inflated mortgage lending and real estate industry and ridiculous year-over-year increases in property value assessments.
 
   Now, with moderate growth reflected in state tax collections that are holding their own, Virginia faces unprecedented demands on its dollars.
 
   The budget isn't the only weighty fare before lawmakers.
 
   Legislation that would effectively outlaw nearly all abortions is not new. But this year, thanks to GOP gains in November's Senate election, House Bill 1 sponsored by the General Assembly's most implacable abortion foe, Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, has a much stronger chance of surviving the Senate Education and Health Committee.
 
   There is the always pressing need to pump billions more into transportation while staying true to a no-new-taxes pledge by the Republicans who are asserting a disputed claim to total control of both the legislative and executive branches of Virginia government beginning Wednesday.
 
   Bills in the hopper address some of 2011's most troubling headlines.
 
   Marshall has two bills that make it a crime for coaches of private sports teams or at schools to fail to report child abuse or neglect. They are an outgrowth of the scandal at Penn State University that forced the ouster of the school's legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno, and criminal charges against a former Paterno assistant accused of forcing boys to have sex with him.
 
   Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, has a bill that makes it a crime for a parent or guardian not to promptly report the disappearance or injury of a child. It comes after Casey Anthony was acquitted last summer in Florida in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony. In that case, the child was initially reported abducted.
 
   A bill by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spottsylvania, could allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon, with or without a permit. Permits would still be available for those who need them to covertly pack heat in another state that recognizes Virginia's concealed-carry permits.
 
   Voting could become more burdensome for some Virginians. One of Cole's bills would make it illegal to help more than two people cast in-person absentee ballots in the same election. Another would make it illegal to solicit absentee ballot applications for people in hospitals.
 
   Stanley is offering legislation that would require Virginians to register to vote by political party or as an independent, which would allow parties to curb meddling by outsiders in their primary elections. And Sen. Mark Obenshain's bill would require candidates for local office to be identified by party.
 
   Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, wants $800,000 in reparations for Thomas Edward Haynesworth, who served 27 years in a Virginia prison for a rape he did not commit. A state appeals court, at the behest of two state prosecutors and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, exonerated Haynesworth last month.
 
   Not all legislation is so grave.
 
   Democratic Del. Joe Morrissey wants to add cigarette butts to the list of items that are considered litter and impose criminal punishment for their improper disposal. In another bill, he seeks civil penalties for smoking in automobiles with children in them. And fellow Democratic Del. David Englin wants to allow localities to ban smoking in some public parks.
 
   Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft in flight would become a crime under Del. Barry Knight's bill.
 
   Morrissey is proposing a 20-cent tax on each plastic grocery bag shoppers take from the supermarket.
 
   Marshall has several bills that would exempt Virginia from a range of federal regulations, including those regarding energy use in homes.
 
   And thanks to legislation by Del. Tony O. Wilt, owners of hounds bred to hunt bears could finally train the dogs at night. Current law allows the ursine-seeking hounds to be trained to chase a bear up a tree only during daylight hours when it's legal to shoot the treed animals.
 
   "It's quite something to behold," Wilt said in a telephone interview Friday.
 
   Nocturnal training, he said, is necessary because in today's busy society, people just can't find enough hours in a day to take their bear hounds out for practice. And bear hounds don't come cheap, said Wilt, himself a former bear hunter.
 
   "It's not unusual to see somebody spend $5,000, up to $10,000 for a bear hound," he said.
 

 

Print
Email
|