Results of the election are not known to me as I write this column, but polling suggests that there will be a shift towards the middle of the political spectrum in the Old Dominion this year. Seldom have the choices been clearer on political philosophy among the statewide and House of Delegates candidates as they were in this election.
Virginia faces some serious challenges that the new governor and the General Assembly must take on. Regardless of the claims that the state has had a budget surplus the last four years, the Commonwealth has experienced slow growth during this period that has produced small ending balances as a result of conservatively estimated revenues. When measured against the unmet needs in many areas of the budget, state coffers are empty. Transportation needs will take some dollars from a general fund that is already inadequate to address education, mental health and other pressing issues. Fairfax County Public Schools are facing a $140 million deficit in part because of the declining per student support from the state.
The outgoing governor will propose a budget for the next biennium, but the priorities of that budget will need close scrutiny by the new governor and General Assembly. The slow erosion of support for public education at all levels needs to be reversed. With all the data that support the value of preschool programs, the state’s investment in these programs needs to increase. Mental health programs are grossly underfunded with as many as a third of local jail populations being persons in need of mental health treatment.
Although legislation is in place to allow Virginia to move into an expanded Medicaid program, there seems to be reluctance on the part of the commission appointed to bring about certain reforms to take the last step of expanding Medicaid even though the reforms have been accomplished. The new governor should ask the General Assembly to act right away to extend insurance to 400,000 Virginians and to pay for it by receiving federal dollars paid by Virginians. There is no good reason for those dollars to go to residents of another state when there are over a million Virginians without health insurance.
As the location of one of the greatest incidents of gun violence—Virginia Tech—the state needs to enact important gun safety measures that will expand background checks to all gun sales and to expand its background database to include persons with violent mental health illnesses. We need also to recognize that the world has passed us by, and we need to repeal the marriage amendment to allow people who are in love to marry regardless of their sexual orientation. Likewise we need to pass laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
That is the beginning of the list of work for the legislature to do. I always invite your recommendations on legislation; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.