Budget has bipartisan support

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

The General Assembly completed its business and adjourned its regular session for 2010 just before 6:00 p.m. on March 14.  The final days were dominated by completion of the largest single piece of legislation, the state’s 2010-2012 Biennial Budget.  That budget will set Virginia apart from a lot of other states, as it was balanced without raising taxes.

     When session began, outgoing Governor Tim Kaine had introduced a budget to close the state’s $4.2 billion revenue shortfall.  But, his solution to close part of that shortfall was to enact a 17% increase in the income tax and end state responsibility for providing car tax relief.  If we had approved that plan, you would be paying a lot more in state taxes this year.  But, I’m pleased to say that you won’t.

    The new budget does not include tax increases.  Instead, legislators worked to prioritize spending, providing funding for core services and reducing government outlays wherever possible.  So, car tax refunds will continue at their current levels and there will be no tax increase. 

    As I noted in a previous column, fees were going to be one of the largest sticking points in completing our work on the budget.  Governor Kaine’s introduced budget included $145 million in higher fees.  The Senate approved a budget plan that featured $330 million in fee increases.  In stark contrast to these approaches, the House plan, for which I voted, did not include fee increases.  That’s a big gap to overcome.

    A compromise was reached, and the final budget included just over $90 million in higher fees.  However, the few fees that will be going up on July 1 are very limited.  In each case, they are for specific services, and the fees are intended to either fully fund or underwrite those services.

    Virginia’s 2010-2012 Biennial Budget was approved with bipartisan support, clearing the Republican-majority House by a vote of 73 to 23 and the Democrat-controlled Senate by a vote of 34 to 6.

    A few weeks back, I mentioned my concern about the proposed closing of the Campbell County Cooperative Extension office.  The budget no longer mandates the closing of that office.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the office is out of the woods just yet.

    Instead of mandating which extension offices will be closed, the budget reduced overall funding for the extension service.  Now, the decision on which offices to keep open and which ones to close will be made by those who operate Virginia’s Cooperative Extension program at Virginia Tech.

    Although I would have preferred a solution that would have ensured the Campbell County office would remain operational, this result is far superior to the earlier proposal.  Now, the individual offices will be judged on their merits.  As Campbell County’s Cooperative Extension is among the busiest in the state, its prospects for staying open are significantly better than they were just a week ago.  I will make sure Virginia Tech is aware of my support of the need for our local office.

    The closing days of the session saw one of my bills clearing its final hurdle and receiving approval from the House and Senate.  House Bill 1033, infant homicide,  had been in conference during the final days of session.  After I had participated in a conference to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, it was passed by a vote of 94 to 2 in the House and 39-0 in the Senate.

    The dispute over this bill revolves around what constitutes “an independent and separate existence”.  The bill closes a loophole in Virginia law and increases protection for innocent human life.  Under its provisions, an infant may be considered a person even if the umbilical cord has not been cut or the placenta remains attached.  This may seem obvious to most, but it wasn’t specified under current law.  That omission meant that if a baby had been killed after emerging from the womb with the umbilical cord intact, its killer might not be eligible to be prosecuted for homicide.

    Now that session is over, you can reach me at my district office by calling 434.582.1592 or by sending an email to DelKByron@house.virginia.gov.

    Nine weeks and six (yes, six) snowstorms later, the regular session of the General  Assembly for 2010 has adjourned.  That means this is my last column for this year.

    This newspaper has been very gracious – and generous – in performing a public service

by providing space for this column each week.  I thank them for doing so, and you for taking the

time to read them.