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By Sen. Steve Newman
It is doubtful the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly will have a week more eventful than this one. Amendments to the biennial budget, the continuing debate over transportation funding proposals, and crossover all garnered headlines this week. With just two weeks remaining until the scheduled end of session on February 23, there’s still much to be done.
The Commonwealth of Virginia operates under biennial budgets. Since the General Assembly approved the 2012 to 2014 Budget last year, we only make amendments to the budget this year. Still, there are many changes being made to the state’s spending plan. This week, the Senate unveiled and approved its package of budget amendments.
The plan builds upon the changes recommended by Governor McDonnell which were detailed in his State of the Commonwealth Address on the session’s first day. It includes funding for the state’s share of a 2 percent pay raise for our school teachers. The Senate plan also added funding to increase the pay of school support personnel. It includes increased funding for student financial aid and support funding for Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities, as well.
The Senate’s package of budget amendments was approved on Thursday. Next week, the House and Senate will appoint conferees to negotiate the differences between their two plans. The effort to reach an agreement on a transportation funding plan this year is proving elusive, but there remains much hope for a solution.
The House approved a proposal this week and the Senate did not. But, it wasn’t for a lack of trying in our case. Every Republican senator voted for a transportation plan at some point in the process. Some Senate Republicans voted for two different plans. Senate Democrats, however, did not vote for any.
I introduced a substitute to the transportation bill that was clearly the plan most preferred by the conservative members of the Senate. I was very pleased to gain the support of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for this plan. On the floor of the Senate my substitute received 18 votes, only two votes short of passage. This measure was truly revenue neutral and set up a path for a solution without a tax increase on working Virginians.
We now have the House bill coming over to the Senate. I will once again try to fix the transportation problem in a way that conservatives can support.
Crossover, the legislative halfway point of the General Assembly session, came this week. Of the more than 1,700 bills filed by delegates and senators, nearly 1,000 were still alive at the halfway mark. The Senate approved more than 400 of the bills filed by its members, all of which are now being considered by the House. The final two weeks of session are going to be very, very busy in the Senate.
Among the more than 400 Senate bills that were sent on to the House this week were my bills to allow the City of Bedford to convert to town status. Also, my SB1216 which requires the DMV to become the customer service outlet of the state of Virginia.
I’ll provide an update on the latest on the progress of legislation next week. Until then, have a great week.
(Staff of Senate Republican Caucus contributed to this report.)