As I type these words on Friday afternoon in your General Assembly office on Capitol Square, I am looking over my computer at the historic city of Richmond as my fellow Delegates and Senators make their way to their cars to head home for the weekend. Before I get on the road to Prince William County, I want to update you on week number five of the 2013 General Assembly.
TRANSPORTATION: A CRUCIAL CROSSROADS
The Governor’s transportation plan, designated as HB (House Bill) 2313, moved from the House to the Senate, where it was regrettably amended with a large number of tax increases. Although I disagreed with several elements of the House plan, I voted to keep it moving to a House-Senate Conference Committee that will write a final plan for our consideration. We hope to see a compromise plan in a matter of days.
The House plan repeals the 27-year-old gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon, increases the annual vehicle registration fee by $15, and increases the general sales tax from 5.0% to 5.8%, with the added 0.8% directed to transportation needs. My hope is to (1) see a roadmap that generates an additional $500M each year for road construction and road maintenance, and (2) not increase the state fiscal burden on our citizens who were hit in January with a 2% federal decrease in their take-home pay. My concerns: The federal government is signaling that tax increases lie ahead, Sequestration and the federal fiscal cliff continue as real threats, and the nation faces unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.
In short, I want a transportation plan that meets the needs of the Commonwealth, but doesn’t burden our neighbors during tough fiscal times.
MEDICAID: REFORM BEFORE EXPANSION
Medicaid is vital to providing health care to low-income people. And while extension of Medicaid this year to Virginia citizens would be helpful to those less fortunate, we are committed to a reform-first approach to a system plagued by huge challenges. In 2010, Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), the General Assembly’s watchdog agency, identified $90M of Medicaid waste due to fraud, abuse, and error. In 2012 alone, Virginia spent $7B on Medicaid, and expansion will add 250,000 new enrollees and drive huge cost increases if we don’t first implement reforms.
Before expanding Medicaid, we first plan to seek approval from the federal government for program reforms. After those reforms are implemented, the General Assembly is then positioned to approve Medicaid expansion. Some are calling for a dual-track approach (expanding Medicaid while simultaneously enacting reforms), but many are concerned over the ability of the federal government to fund the expanded program in the long term.
Hundreds of thousands of our fellow Virginians rely on Medicaid, and we want to ensure that it is the strong health care safety net that our citizens need. We believe that Medicaid reform is the best pathway to sound Medicaid expansion.
STATUS OF LEGISLATION I’M PATRONING
As chief patron of HB 1907, which combats the dangers of texting while driving, I’m pleased that the bill has moved from the House to the Senate for final approval. After years of work, this comprehensive bill will strengthen the ban on texting by drivers by making it a primary offense with stiff monetary penalties. I was pleased to work this in bi-partisan partnership with Sen. George L. Barker (D-39th), as we have done in previous years on other bills.
As chairman of the Virginia Commission on Civics Education, I carried HB 1601 that secured General Assembly approval for continuation of the Commission for another three years. The Commission has reinvigorated the quality of civics education in Virginia classrooms, and I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their bipartisan support.
As a retired 30-year Air Force officer and chairman of the bi-partisan General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus, I patroned two bills on behalf of 820,000 Virginia veterans.
First, the House and Senate approved my HB 1906 on the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program. Over the last year, this initiative certified 336 Virginia employers and companies that recruit, hire, and retain Virginia veterans. These same companies pledged 3,038 jobs to Virginia veterans, and I was pleased to work this in bi-partisan partnership with Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller (D-36th).
Second, I was pleased with House-Senate approval of HB 2175, which starts the process for constructing a Northern Virginia Veteran Care Center for those who have worn the cloth of the country. I carried the bill with House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-66th), and I plan to work hard to bring this facility home to Prince William County.
WE’RE AS CLOSE AS THE PHONE OR YOUR KEYBOARD
As we move into the final stretch of the 2013 General Assembly, please contact us if we can assist in any way. You can reach me directly at DelRAnderson@house.virginia.gov or at our Richmond office number, 804-698-1051. You may reach my legislative assistant, Ryan M. Galloway, at the same number or at RGalloway@house.virginia.gov. If you need us on the weekend, please call my Woodbridge home at 703-730-1380—I can’t be responsive if I’m not reachable. No matter your beliefs or views, we’re here for you and sincerely thank you for this opportunity to represent you at home in Prince William County and in Richmond.
Del. Rich Anderson, a retired 30-year Air Force colonel, represents Prince William County’s 51st House District in the Virginia General Assembly and sits on four standing House committees: Finance, Transportation, General Laws, and Science and Technology.