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."
Virginia voters elect just three non-federal statewide officeholders every four years—governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Unique to the Commonwealth is the fact that our governor cannot run for reelection after one single term. Because lieutenant governor is largely a part-time ceremonial role, the attorney general—who is allowed to stand for reele tion—has a potentially large stage from which to gain media coverage and advance an agenda.
On July 1 many new laws went into effect. Listed below are a few changes that may impact your daily life:
While the budget dominated the news during the regular and reconvened sessions this year, more progress was made on the biotechnology front. If you have read this column in the past you know this is an area of great interest to me. In 2008, I chaired the Joint Subcommittee Studying Biosciences and Biotechnology, which laid the groundwork for advances made in 2009 and now 2010.
The recently ended legislative session may be remembered most for its difficult, no-win budget decisions. As you probably know, Virginia is facing its worst budget crisis in a generation. In the face of an additional $4.2 billion shortfall over the next two years, the budget passed by the General Assembly contained serious cuts to core services of government, including education, healthcare, assistance for the disabled, and public safety. Everything state government does has been downsized.