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If you and your family or friends are thinking of weekend activities or taking a well-deserved summer vacation, there are many good options right here in Virginia. A variety of great day and weekend trips can be found when you visit www.virginia.org to learn all about the fun, educational, and memorable activities you can be a part of near home.

It has been a busy spring for the General Assembly. As a member of the redistricting committee, several trips to Richmond were needed in order to redraw legislative districts to meet the one-person, one-vote requirement after another decade of strong growth. After the Governor vetoed the first bill over the State Senate plan, we returned for a second try. The successful plan moves three House of Delegate seats and one Senate seat from slower growing areas to the southern suburbs of Washington, DC.

The 2011 General Assembly session ended on the 47th day. Upon adjournment, we entered a special session strictly for the purpose of redrawing legislative districts to reflect the 2010 census. We will return to Richmond on April 4 to consider new legislative boundaries. A draft map of the new 43rd District will be posted online by late March for public comment. I am hopeful that our district will not change drastically because the 43rd is only 1,922 people short of the 80,000 target, well within the five percent one-person, one-vote legal requirement.

The 2011 General Assembly session is now at its halfway point known as "crossover." It has been an extraordinarily busy three and a half weeks. We have considered bills to increase our debt for transportation, mandate health insurance for autism, enforce immigration law, reduce childhood obesity, ban synthetic marijuana, and update HOA rules, among other things.

Budget Amendments

The 2011 session will be dominated by the Governor's suggested changes to the existing two-year budget. While there was a so-called "surplus" last year, there is another projected shortfall for fiscal 2012. Revenues are coming in higher than projected, but mandatory spending requirements are growing somewhat faster. Importantly, states will no longer benefit from federal stimulus money to close the gap in education and healthcare funding. At the same time, the Governor has called for spending increases for economic development and charitable purposes.

Northern Virginia has fared much better than the nation as a whole as we continue to grow slowly out of the Great Recession. Our unemployment never fell below the national average and we appear to be recovering somewhat faster than other states. As the State Senate Finance Committee recently reported, our economy is doing better because of our highly educated workforce, which is needed to handle growth in federal government spending, particularly for defense. Both the demand for education and health care are also growing due to demographic trends and workforce development.

The 2011 General Assembly session is right around the corner. While I have started to work on my bills, I continue to seek constituent input on what we can do better in Richmond. In past years, I have received some of my best ideas from citizens in the community.

I write as the fall semester at Virginia's colleges and universities is just getting started. You might have recently dropped off your son or daughter at one of Virginia's 16 public four-year schools. Perhaps they are attending NVCC. Maybe your children are young and you are working to save money for future college tuition. Or they've graduated and you are helping pay off their loans. No matter in what stage of preparing for higher education you find yourself, you are likely aware that tuition has risen substantially in recent years.

Next year, Virginia will be the first state to use the 2010 Census to redraw legislative districts to ensure that each constituency has the same number of people. When you vote in November 2011, elections will be held in different state house, state senate, supervisor, and school board districts. When you vote in 2012, you may live in a different U.S. House of Representatives seat.

In the last quarter of Virginia's fiscal year, ending on June 30, tax revenues decreased as compared to the previous year, but decreased less than forecast when the budget was enacted. As a result, Virginia ended the fiscal year with about $220 million of unexpected revenue. After several years of budget cuts, and the recent un-Virginia-like borrowing of $135 million from the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), calling the revenue a "surplus" is a stretch. The Washington Post editorial page called it a surplus that "comes with a large asterisk."

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