Opinion: Commentary: Budget Update

Opinion: Commentary: Budget Update

This week on Feb. 11th, we finally reached crossover. The days on the House Floor were very long as we voted on the many bills being reported out of committees before the deadline. On Monday, we gaveled in at 10 am and we were in session late into the evening. Of the 27 bills I filed, I have 17 crossing over to the Senate and four that were incorporated into more senior members’ bills. It is far too long a list to present here but the number of bills heading to the Senate that will push us towards a more egalitarian, safe, and just Commonweath are legion. Some examples include HB 798 to eliminate predatory lending, HB 9 requiring that you report your lost or stolen firearm, and HB 145 and HB 386 protecting transgender student rights and banning conversion therapy, respectively -- all bills that never had a chance to pass in prior years.

As the Public Safety and Transportation Subcommittee chair on the busy House Appropriations Committee, I will soon be turning my attention to the Governor’s 2020-2022 budget and the many budget amendments that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have filed to fund their legislative endeavors, and on behalf of state agencies and organizations to fund important projects across the Commonwealth.

The Governor’s budget already includes many important and historic provisions that I support and plan to defend. Significantly, a $1.2 billion investment is being proposed to put into public education, with $145.1 million going towards a 3 percent pay increase for teachers. Teachers are our most valuable asset for preparing the next generation of Virginians to be productive and prosperous. The Commonwealth has lagged behind the national average for far too long on compensating these vital public servants. I will continue to fight to raise teacher pay to keep our talented and hard working educators in the Commonwealth.

This year, I filed nine of my own budget amendments. I will highlight just a few of them here. I requested funding in the budget for six new wage inspector employees in the Department of Labor and Industry. The Department is essential to combatting nonpayment of wages. A worker who has not been paid her wages files a complaint with DOLI, which is then investigated. But, right now that investigation may take years because the wage enforcement division is woefully understaffed with only three investigators to handle thousands of inquiries and complaints. In previous years there have been as many as 22 wage investigators. Without an increase in staff, workers who are victims of wage theft are deprived of a speedy and efficient remedy. My hope is that this staffing increase will help us more effectively enforce our wage payment laws.

I put in a budget amendment of $556,136 for FY2021 and FY2022 to restore funding for the Virginia Wing of the Civil Air Patrol’s full training schedules for public safety personnel, and to fund two field search and rescue officers who are currently funded using non-general fund grants. The Civil Air Patrol has approximately 2,000 members across the Commonwealth and performs vital search and rescue missions as well as disaster relief.

I requested $3,000,000 for the Department of Human Resource Management to establish a Public Employee Relations Board to administer collective bargaining for public employees at the state and local levels. With the passage of Delegate Guzman’s HB 582, which I was proud to copatron, teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public service workers will have the right to negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions.

I requested $7.5 million for the Virginia Department of Health to conduct a study on the feasibility of implementing a Children's Health Insurance Program Health Services Initiative to expand the services provided by Virginia’s three contracted poison control centers. The poison control centers provide 24-hour expert assistance by telephone and online to assist in the event of accidental and intentional exposure to poisonous chemicals, venoms, vapors or medications. In 2015, the Virginia Poison Control center staff handled 30,000 calls from the public and healthcare providers. A big reason that this is critical is that 50 percent of exposures involve children ages one to six.

You can view all of my budget amendments here: https://budget.lis.virginia.gov/mbramendment/2020/1/H281.

Finally, flying under the radar and media coverage is a landmark transportation bill, HB 1414, carried by Speaker Filler-Corn. This bill adopts numerous and significant structural changes to transportation funding. It will increase the gas tax from 16 cents to 28 cents per gallon over the next three years. The gas tax increase is expected to yield around $1 billion to ensure that there is sustainable transportation funding to fix our aging roads and bridges and expand passenger and commuter rail service throughout Virginia. The bill also establishes the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. The authority would be tasked to promote, sustain, and expand the State's passenger and commuter rail service as well as to increase ridership. In the not too distant future, when rail travel is as ubiquitous in Virginia as it is in much of Europe, we will look back at this General Assembly as the catalyst for expanded economical, safe, and quicker travel by rail throughout much of our region.

It is always an honor to serve you in Richmond. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office at DelPKrizek@House.Virginia.Gov throughout this legislative session with questions, concerns, or legislative opinions.