Column: Wrangling State Budget, Transportation

Column: Wrangling State Budget, Transportation

— Crossover occurred last week — all remaining House bills went to the Senate, and all Senate bills went to the House. It was a busy week, with big topics discussed from SB 259 to budget and transportation.

The big news this week was that the Speaker ruled that SB 259 (which was the Senate redistricting plan) was not germane which effectively killed the bill. Thanks to all of you who wrote and called. Defeating this was an important step. But some legislators in Richmond are already talking about ways to bring this back. So this fight is likely to come up again. We will keep you posted.

Budget: The Senate and House of Delegates passed budgets that will now be sent to the other body to review and ultimately to reconcile. I voted against the House budget for two reasons. First, it took money from education to pay for transportation. We have been cutting per pupil spending in Virginia for a number of years and our schools are being constrained in their ability to meet community needs. And second, the House budget didn’t include a full expansion of Medicaid, which would help approximately 43,000 people in and around my district. With Medicaid, each of those people would have less need to use emergency services, which creates a savings for all of us.

Fortunately, the Senate budget provides funding to expand Medicaid. I am committed to working to make sure the Senate’s Medicaid proposal ends up in the final budget. I put in a request for $2.5 million for a statewide Mental Health First Aide program and $1.85 million made it into the House budget. This is a great step. And I hope it will help pave the way for Virginia do much more with mental health care services overall.

Transportation: Last week NoVA was identified as having the worse traffic in the country. But I know none of us needed a survey to know that. Traffic destroys our quality of life and puts at risk the prosperity of our region. The Governor’s transportation bill, which eliminates the gas tax and raises the sales tax passed the House and is now in the Senate where we expect many changes for the better.

I can see an opportunity for us to get something done this year, but it won’t be easy and there will have to be changes to the currently proposed transportation bill. The Governor’s bill does a lot of gymnastics so folks can claim they didn’t raise taxes. The problem is, doing that means it also doesn’t raise much money and it puts education funding at risk. We need well over a billion and a half dollars of new dedicated transportation funds each year to address our maintenance and construction budget shortfalls.

I understand the need to compromise and I remain ready to do that. But I also want to make sure the final bill isn’t just a press release that forces us to come back to this issue next year. We need real revenues. We need local control of much of the money so we don’t have to rely on VDOT making choices that don’t make sense for our community. And we need to make sure transit is given the support it needs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about transportation. Please visit my website ( and complete my survey on transportation issues. It will be under the ‘Issues’ tab. Additionally, I will be having a town hall this coming Saturday, from 11-12:30 at the Charles Houston Recreation Center at 901 Wythe Street in Alexandria. Info is also on my website.