On Sunday, the House and Senate budget committees unveiled competing versions of Virginia's $85-billion two-year budget. An initial review suggests that both proposals restore some of the cuts to education and the safety net proposed by Governor McDonnell. However, the House version of the budget still cuts $65 million that schools in Northern Virginia need to account for our region's high cost of living, and it includes Governor McDonnell's plan to divert about $100 million per year from education, health care, and public safety to pave roads. The House version of the budget also eliminates the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, which is precisely the wrong move if our goal is ensuring the lifetime success of our children. Since, constitutionally, the lieutenant governor cannot cast tie-breaking votes on the budget, Democrats have some leverage in the Senate, where the parties are equally divided. I am hopeful that we can use that leverage to address some of these issues and develop a final budget we can all support.
Unfortunately, with just a few weeks to finalize the budget, we continue to be distracted by the Republican majority's "Guns, God, Gays, and Abortion" social agenda, which I fear is turning Virginia into a national laughingstock. During his annual State of the Commonwealth address, Governor McDonnell cautioned the new Republican majority in Richmond against arrogance and overreach, especially on divisive social issues. As the following litany demonstrates, they didn't heed his advice:
Prior to our state law limiting handgun purchases to one per month, Virginia was a major source of arms used while committing crimes in other states. We likely will be again now that the Republican majority has repealed that law. The new "personhood" bill, which voters in Mississippi and Colorado overwhelmingly rejected last year, grants full rights of personhood beginning at conception, effectively outlawing the most common forms of contraception. Under the guise of religion, another bill will allow groups to place gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender foster children in homes where they will be subject to abusive "conversion" and "reparative" therapy that has been discredited by the American Psychological Association. Another bill will require many women in Virginia to undergo vaginal penetration with an ultrasound probe against their consent in order to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, even for nonsurgical, noninvasive, pharmaceutical abortions.
Republicans in Richmond note correctly that these represent only a small fraction of hundreds of bills, most of which draw little controversy. The point is not the sheer numbers of these bills but the disproportionate legislative energy they consume and how dramatically they undermine the progress Virginians have made together. It is true that this agenda is nothing new for House Republicans, who have always been an aggressively conservative bunch. However, we used to always know that the Senate would reject these bills. But now that they have total control in Richmond, these bills are actually on track to become law. What I wouldn't give to spend just one legislative session without having to fight against this divisive conservative social agenda! Rest assured that I will continue standing up to this agenda while also working to ensure the best possible state budget for our community.
By David Englin
State Delegate (D-45)