Session is moving by quickly here in Richmond. We have reached the end of the 7th week, and we are entering the home stretch. Since crossover, the time when House bills go to the Senate and Senate bills come to the House, a number of bills have passed both houses and await approval by the Governor. The House has also proposed a budget with responsible fiscal spending that protects our taxpayers and the Commonwealth. The budget deposits $605 million in the state’s rainy day fund, safeguarding Virginia from economic hardship. The House has made strides in education, infrastructure, economic growth, and protecting the rights of the citizens of our Commonwealth.
Transportation is integral to the quality of life in our Commonwealth, and the House has certainly kept it in mind while crafting this year’s biennial budget. The budget includes net increases of $662.8 million in the first year and $335.4 million in the second year for transportation funding. The Port of Virginia and Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia are Virginia’s gateways for commerce and trade. The House budget includes funding to strengthen the Port of Virginia and to strengthen Dulles Airport’s contracts with major airlines. The funding increases potential economic output of our transportation systems, creates jobs, and ensures that Virginia is at the forefront of business in our region.
The Budget proposal also includes funding for my bill concerning high speed rail expansion between Norfolk and Roanoke, Item 449-4. This amendment sets the policy that Virginia will not invest in increased light rail capacity to other states until we fund increased transit between Norfolk and Roanoke. Virginia’s light rail project is one of about two dozen projects nationwide. The rail will eventually connect the entirety of the East Coast. Our participation is integral to the advancement of Virginia economically and structurally.
The House’s proposed budget strives to create a business-friendly environment and positions us to be a top state in which to do business. The goal is to encourage businesses to grow in Virginia, which in turn brings jobs and economic development to the Commonwealth. The budget includes incentive grants for aerospace facilities, a promising scientific field that may bring more industry to the state. It also funds the Virginia Jobs Incentive Program with over $5.5 million in each of the next two years.
Other funds in the budget include the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund and the Advanced Shipbuilding Training Facility Grant. These programs are aimed at strengthening Virginia’s workforce by encouraging on-the-job training and technological expertise. They go hand-in-hand with the GO Virginia Program for business growth that is currently under review by the Senate. GO Virginia allows localities to identify their workforce needs and apply for grants based on objective scoring criteria. The House proposal includes $5.7 million dollars in local grant funds for 2017, and $27.2 million for 2018. The program gets the people who know how to create jobs (business leaders) involved in the decision making process.
Virginia Tourism remains a major source of economic growth for the Commonwealth. The House proposal includes an increase of $4.5 million for the Motion Picture Opportunity Fund, as well as a $2 million increase over two years for advertising. The return on these investments in tourism is estimated to be significant, and will help Virginia to remain a tourist destination.
Bioscience is another growing industry in Virginia, and the House Budget includes several funds to be matched by private donors for bioscience research. The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Consortium is among a number of bioscience research groups that bring jobs, technology and industry to the Commonwealth. The House budget allocates $6.7 million to bioscience grants, which will be matched with $19.6 million in private funds.
One of the major focuses of the 2016 House budget is education. The House proposal will provide schools with spending flexibility while minimizing the burden on local governments. It reduces the local tax burden by returning a portion of lottery proceeds, over $270 million, directly back to schools. This money is less regulated than other state allocations and provides more flexibility to schools and localities. The budget includes a 3% increase in teacher salaries and seeks to ensure that every child in Virginia receives a quality education. The budget also includes funding for HB894, Greason, that will strengthen the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee in order to continue our efforts to reform standardized testing in Virginia.
The budget also improves access and affordability in higher education by limiting tuition increases at Virginia’s Universities. State support for students at four year Universities has increased by nearly $700 per student, and several Virginia schools will receive additional affordability allocations. Further, the House has proposed a six year plan to address funding needs and affordability at Virginia’s Universities. HB961, Rush, allows colleges and universities to offer flat-fee degrees to students in high demand fields. This will prevent students from facing incremental tuition increases during their undergraduate education.
The Virginia Presidential Primary is this coming Tuesday, March 1. Registered voters can vote at their regular polling place between 6 AM and 7 PM in the Republican and Democratic Primaries.
This week, I enjoyed meeting with youth from the Virginia 4-H Program, Girl Scouts of America, and the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. I also enjoyed meeting with students from Green Run High School as well as the Men of Faith volunteers. Thank you to all who stopped by my office.
Please don’t hesitate to contact my office at any time for your insight and feedback on proposed legislation. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and enable me to better represent you. For the duration of legislative session, I can be found in Room 503 of the General Assembly Building. As always, I can be reached at (804) 698-1021 or email@example.com.
I also encourage you to take a moment to share your thoughts by completing the 2016 Session Survey.