Last year, like the rest of America, Virginia was in the second year of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Instead of borrowing money to pay for ongoing government spending like the US Congress and other states, and instead of raising taxes, my fellow Republican delegates and I cut spending by the billions. In fact, after last Session’s $1.75 billion in cuts, Virginia is spending at 2007 levels. By making these tough decisions last year, we are in the enviable situation of not having to drastically cut government spending this year, and, believe it or not, we actually had a $403 million surplus. And even though we did not have to cut government, we still looked to eliminate more duplicative and non-essential government spending. We found another $193 million and cut it too!
Due to the almost $200 million in additional cuts to non-productive government spending and the $400 surplus this year, Virginia has a total of $600 million to spend or save. Remember that the House of Delegates, where I am a member, is controlled by the Republicans, and the Senate is controlled by the Democrats. All the Senators and Delegates I know are very nice people but we (House Republicans) just disagree adamantly with our Senate Democrat friends on how your tax dollars should be spent. My team’s position is that we must not expand government. Economists predict it will be a long slog out of this recession. And now that we have trimmed government down by nearly $2 billion, the last thing we need is to take this $600 million and expand government. House Republicans wanted to take $64 million and save it by putting it in the “Rainy Day Fund.” As for the remainder of the funds, we were adamant in not spending it on any re-occurring expenses. We chose to invest it in infrastructure, mostly in the form of transportation projects. The Senate, on the other hand, wanted to only save $20.3 million, increase fees by $6.9 million, and then spend the rest on recurring government programs. They proposed spending most of the money on re-occurring expenses such as K-12 education and expanded Medicaid and other welfare programs. (Note: spending more state money on schools may sound good to parents, but it really does not help us in Fairfax since Fairfax gets just under 8% of the money, but pays 25% of the taxes). Most maddening, was that the Senate proposed building a new General Assembly office building at a cost of $300 million. In fact, they spent so much, it would have required a 10% economic growth rate to sustain the spending. Our economists predict only a 2.3% growth.
I am not one to sugar coat things. Our House Republican budget made much more drastic cuts in Medicaid. Cutting government is tough, and there are difficult decisions to make when you have to live within your means. Medicaid now consumes 22% of the budget and has increased twice the rate of inflation and population over the past 10 years. This is unsustainable. And while I am sympathetic to Medicaid recipients, I thing we can all agree that 10% per year growth above and beyond population and inflation is mathematically impossible to sustain.
As always, politics is the art of compromise. We got the Senate to agree to drop their office building, cancel their fee increases, and put $64 million into the Rainy Day Fund. In exchange, we agreed to spend $30 million more on Medicaid and $74.9 million more on K-12 education. In the end, the budget was voted on unanimously in both the House and the Senate. As you will see below, it delivers new roads and rail, 1,700+ new in-state slots to Virginia universities, $21 million in new funds for Fairfax schools and does not raise taxes or fees. I don’t recall that ever happening in my 18 years of service in the House.
This session, we were able to invest a lot of money into transportation needs. HB 2527 and SB1446 were passed by both the House and the Senate. These two bills put almost $4 billion in road and transit projects in Virginia over the next three years. (The source of the money is $150 million of the $403 million surplus, $250 million of excess funds discovered from of the VDOT audit, and $191 million in cuts to government, to generate billions in immediate transportation funding.) Included in this is a proposal to accelerate $1.8 billion in previously authorized bond projects. (Note: This is not new debt. We are selling the already authorized bonds now in order to take advantage of the present low construction costs and the extremely low interest rates. Compared to waiting 5 – 10 years to build, this move reduces the cost of building a road by 50-60%.) Using the widening of Rolling Rd. as an example, I’ve calculated how much building now will save:
Prices on road construction have dropped 40% due to the recession. For example, if the Rolling project costs $20 million today, then it will cost $28 million when prices go back up. On top of that, the interest rate on government bonds right now is only 3.5%. It usually sits at about 4.5%. I’ve tried to simplify it in the charts below. They show the difference between building today at 3.5% on $20 million, and building in 10 years at 4.5% on $28 million.
|Purchase Today on 25-Year Bond||Purchase in 2021 on 25-Year Bond|
|Initial Cost: $20,000,000||Initial Cost: $28,000,000|
|Annual Interest Rate: 3.5%||Annual Interest Rate: 4.5%|
|Total Cost: $30,037,414.22||Total Cost: $46,689,928.15|
|$16,652,513.93 (or 55%) more expensive|
One of the top projects mentioned by the Governor was the widening of Rolling Road. This project has been funded and then defunded three times over the past decade. With the opening of the massive government building in Saratoga, we need the road widening now more than ever. That building will house 8,500 new employees and many of them will be commuting through our neighborhoods! Since we did not get the Senate to agree to put all the money we wanted into transportation, I can not tell you if Rolling will be funded or not. I will be pursuing this over the course of the year.
One piece of good news, though. I have been informed by the Governor that much of the surplus and audit money will be placed in re-paving. So hopefully, many of our long neglected streets will see some new asphalt this summer.
GETTING OUR KIDS INTO VA COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
After meeting many of my 18 year old constituents with 4.0+ GPAs who were not able to get into UVA or W&M, and meeting many other students with 3.0 GPAs who could not get into an in-state four year college, I have been a man on a mission to demand, make, and force our Virginia colleges and universities to expand the number of slots for in-state students. During session, I personally met with the Presidents or Vice Presidents of William and Mary, UVA, JMU and Virginia Tech. These are the four schools that have around 30% or more of out-of-state students. They met with me to discuss my bill HB 2053 (Delegates Hugo/Albo) that mandated a 75%/25% in-state/out-of-state ratio. For the past couple of years I have been at war with these schools telling them that I want spots for my constituents. I have been asking for them to either convert out-of-state to in-state slots, or expand the number of in-state slots.
Although the bill did not make it out of the House, I am pleased to report that all four schools have agreed to expand the number of slots. While I wish it would be more, at least we finally have movement, and they are recognizing that they are not the “rulers” of their universities. Rather, the people of VA are the “rulers” of these schools and the people want more slots. I must congratulate them for at least “moving the ball forward.” Over the next four years, the schools committed to the following: UVA, 990 new in-state slots; VT, 200; W&M, 150; and JMU, 400. In addition, the Governor’s Higher Education (HB 2510) dedicates $50 million in new money per year, and it requires that in exchange for receiving some of this $50 million, schools must increase in-state slots.
PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION
For the 2010-2011 budget enacted last year: Virginia was hurting financially. We have been experiencing the worst recession since the Great Depression with massive shortfalls in revenues. This caused cuts in K-12 funding. Last year, in his proposed budget, former Governor Kaine made cuts to education. I am not faulting him. He had to do what he had to do. But these cuts hurt less affluent areas hard, because they have little ability to make up the difference locally. To help these areas, Governor Kaine messed around with the funding formula known as the “Local Composite Index” (LCI). This formula apportions how state money is allocated across the state. Every year this LCI formula is altered to reflect the economic conditions, student population, and local ability to pay. Usually, the LCI operates to send more money to Southern Virginia’s less affluent areas than it does to NOVA, which is more affluent. Every year since I have been in the General Assembly, we NOVA legislators have bitterly complained about this rip off. Fairfax citizens pay 25% of all the states taxes, but get only 7.4% of the education funds. However, a strange thing happened last year. Since Fairfax housing prices dropped so dramatically, the formula actually benefited us. While 95% of the other school districts lost money, Fairfax gained $61 million. To help these Southern Virginia schools, Governor Kaine delayed/froze implementation of the new Local Composite Index or “LCI.” By delaying the implementation of the LCI in last year’s budget, Fairfax would not get any of the $61 million in additional state funds that the new LCI would direct to us. We NOVA legislators were livid! For years, Northern Virginia has been cut and cut by the LCI. We pleaded for changes to the LCI but Southern Virginia refused to change it. Now, when the LCI, on its own, sends more money to our area, the Governor decided not to use the LCI. I found this to be the apex of hypocrisy. Despite the fact that the vast majority of delegates benefit from freezing the LCI, I, along with my NOVA colleagues, was able to convince the rest of the General Assembly that this was not fair and that adjusting it as we do every year was the right thing to do. So, while I am usually “bashing” Southern Virginia, I must compliment them for recognizing that it would be completely hypocritical not to use the current version of the LCI.
Because of my NOVA team’s work, even after all the cuts to education, our Fairfax County schools received an additional $36.1 million ($61 million in new LCI money with $24.9 million in cuts) in the current budget above what they did the previous year. This is especially impressive when you learn that 95% of all the other districts in Virginia suffered huge cuts. As you will recall, when Governor Kaine’s budget came out, the School Board was threatening all of the nightmare scenarios (e.g. cutting band, freshman sports, all day kindergarten, and foreign language immersion). None of these were implemented because Fairfax received so much money in comparison to the rest of the state.
For this year’s budget (2011-2012: Last year, the General Assembly tentatively approved $470.8 million for 2011. For FY 2011- 2012, we will receive over $22 million more in FY 2011-2012 than we got in FY 2010-2011. This is another rousing success story by your NOVA delegates and senators!
Underage drinking and driving (HB1407): Increases penalties for underage drinking and driving, keeping all Virginians safer on our roads. (Albo voted Yes. Passed the House, defeated in the Senate.)
Enforcement of federal immigration laws (Albo Chief Patron HB1421): This bill states that no agency, political subdivision or locality can limit the enforcement of federal immigration laws. (Albo voted Yes. Passed the House, defeated in the Senate.)
Synthetic marijuana (Albo Co-Patron HB 1434): The House and Senate both passed a bill making it illegal to sell or possess synthetic marijuana, such as “Spice.” (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Tax Credit for high-tech research (HB1447): This bill grants individual and business income tax credits 15-20% for expenses related to qualified high-tech research and development in Virginia. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Legal presence required for public assistance (Albo Chief Patron HB1468): This builds upon my bill from 2005, which denied adult illegal immigrants state tax payer benefits such as welfare, on-going housing and other public assistance. This bill requires that local departments of social services must use the federal database to insure that people are not lying when they say they are legally present in the U.S. (Albo voted Yes. Passed the House, defeated in the Senate.)
Child sexual assault (Albo Chief Patron HB 1476): My bill gave victims of child sexual assaults up to 20 years to file civil suits, up from two years. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Physical education (HB 1644): A bill that would require 150 minutes of physical education, on average, per week for students in grades K-8 is headed to the governor. (Note: While this bill sounds good on its face, it will cost Fairfax County $8 million/yr. to comply and will leave only 20 minutes per day of non-mandated activities.) (Albo voted No. Bill passed House and Senate)
Property tax credit for disabled veterans (HB 1645): This bill codifies last year’s constitution amendment providing a property tax exemption for veterans with a 100 percent service related disability. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Illegal aliens; licenses and ID cards (HB1651): Requires the DMV to cancel licenses and other identification cards issued to individuals who are later discovered to be illegal present in Virginia. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Supplemental TRICARE health coverage for military retirees (HB 1761): Authorizes the Department of Human Resource Management to offer coverage under the state’s cafeteria plan established under § 125 of the Internal Revenue Code to military retirees and their dependents who are eligible for benefits under the TRICARE Military Health System supplemental health plan. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Fake birth certificates (HB1777): Provides that those who create or sell fake birth certificates are guilty of a Class 6 Felony. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Human trafficking (HB1898): This bill makes the abduction of any minor for the purpose of concubinage, prostitution, or the manufacture of child pornography is a Class 2 felony. The bill also says that any person who receives any money or other valuable thing for or on account of causing any person to engage in forced labor or services, concubinage, prostitution, or the manufacture of any obscene material or child pornography shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Health care decisions (HB1928): Amends the process for independent external review of health carrier’s adverse decisions regarding the scope of health benefits offered to an individual. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Passing school buses (Albo Co-Author HB2043): Fixes a grammatical error in a law that makes passing a stopped school bus considered reckless driving. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Protective orders (HB 2063): This bill makes changes to the state’s protective-order laws that for the first time would allow people in dating relationships, or anyone else who fears serious harm, to seek protection. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Creation of the Inspector General (HB2076): Establishes the Office of the Inspector General, which will investigate allegations of fraud, waste, abuse and corruption by state and non-state agencies and officers. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Telecommunications (HB 2367): Both chambers backed a bill that would give companies like Verizon greater flexibility in deciding whether to offer landline service or wireless service to future customers if wireless is available. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
ABC privatization (HB 2456 and SB 1272). Governor McDonnell’s proposal to privatize the state’s liquor stores did not make it out of either the House or Senate committees. (Delegate Albo opposed this bill since it lost money in the long run. Delegate Albo stated, “While I do not think government should be in the business of selling liquor, I am not going to vote for a bill that loses money while our roads are in horrible shape.”)
Autism Insurance (HB 2467): This year, the House and Senate passed a bill mandating that all insurance policies cover autism for children between the ages of 2 to 6, a critical period for treating the disorder. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Virginia higher education (Albo Co-Patron HB2510): This bill sets a goal of creating 100,000 additional undergraduate degrees in Virginia over the next 15 years and emphasizes the importance of highly competitive “STEM” degree programs, which include science, technology, engineering and math. It also increases access and affordability for more in-state residents waiting to attend Virginia’s institutions of higher learning and improves institutional efficiency by encouraging colleges and universities to analyze the use of state-owned buildings, find opportunities to use buildings year-round and explore technological alternatives for summer and online classes. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Reducing government (HB2520): Eliminates various boards, commissions and other collegial bodies in an effort to reduce the size and scope of government. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Federal budget (Albo Co-Patron HJ852): Encourages the United States Congress to adopt legislation requiring a balanced federal budget and to call a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House, defeated in Senate)
Emergency vehicles (Albo Co-Author and Patron SB762): Requires that emergency vehicles driving past signals at intersections stop or sound a siren before proceeding. Inspired by the death of a Fairfax woman in a collision with a police cruiser. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Abortion clinics (SB924): Requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)
Alcohol ads (Albo Co-Author SB1457): Due to a legal battle regarding alcohol ads, it was ruled that the total ban on alcohol ads on billboards is unconstitutional. In order to comply with this ruling, legislators had to come up with a compromise in order to maintain some state control over billboards that show alcohol advertisements. The bill sets a rule that billboards can only be located in commercial and industrial zoned areas and must be at least 500 feet from a residential area. (Albo voted Yes. Bill passed House and Senate)