As the General Assembly completed its fourth week of work last week, I am pleased to report that the state Senate approved 29 of my 32 bills and sent them to the House of Delegates. The Senate voted for 19 unanimously and only one bill passed without any Republican votes.
I am carrying legislation on behalf of the Virginia Crime Commission that requires the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue an annual report showing the incidence of drunk driving (DWI) arrests for both drug and alcohol relative to numbers of officers and population densities. The bill also requires DMV to collect data on drug levels related to motor vehicle deaths and DWI arrests so that we can determine where to leverage our resources and make adjustments in the law.
We need this bill because most police officers report that incidents of “drugged driving” or driving under the influence of other drugs is rising. We also need to be better prepared to interdict high drivers as we move toward the retail sale of marijuana. A recent poll shows that 30 percent of Virginians think it is acceptable to drive after smoking marijuana, which is very dangerous.
The number of alcohol-related arrests has plummeted in Fairfax County and in the entire state, although alcohol-related collisions have not dropped by nearly the same amount. Much of this decline in prosecutions has to do with reduced emphasis on enforcement. I hope that this bill will help educate us all on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and marijuana and help focus law enforcement.
The Senate and House announced their proposed budgets last week. Here are some of the key differences. The Senate rejected all of Governor Youngkin’s proposed $1 billion in tax cuts. First, corporations should not pay a lower tax rate than people. Second, most of our programs have been historically underfunded and our excess revenues are being generated by inflationary pressures. Our police, fire, teachers and other government employees have not received raises that keep pace with inflation.
The proposed Senate budget provides $300 million more for K-12 education than the House budget and includes a 2 percent teacher pay increase instead of the one-time merit bonus proposed by the Governor. We also allocated $230 million to lift the cap on non-teaching support positions in schools such as guidance counselors, mental health counselors and nurses. Virginia has had 63,000 more students enrolled while employing 1,700 fewer support staff since that arbitrary cap was put in place in 2010. Our children especially need these services post-pandemic.
The Senate also eliminated the Governor and House’s proposed increase in funding for so-called “lab schools” and reallocated the funding to make up for the Governor’s $200 million error in school funds the state reported it was sending to localities. The Senate budget also allocates $224 million more for financial aid than the Governor’s budget and $200 million more than the House budget. We also included a $75 million payment towards our $22 billion unfunded pension liability.
The Senate budget includes my request for $600,000 to fund new staff to help us navigate our green energy transition and $200,000 each for the Lorton Community Action Center and Ecumenical Community Helping Others in Springfield.
The budgets will now head to each chamber and a joint conference committee will resolve the differences. The most difficult discussion will revolve around tax cuts. We already cut $4 billion in taxes last year and our chamber does not believe that we should continue reducing our resources given our underfunded programs, continued economic uncertainty and our $22 billion unfunded pension liability.
I have received hundreds of responses to my constituent survey. Only 10 percent of respondents want us to invest funds on widening roads as opposed to maintaining existing highways (48%) or investing in transit (19%). Eighty-two percent of respondents want to see reproductive choice as decided by the Roe v. Wade case codified in Virginia’s Constitution. You can complete my survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey.
This week, various House of Delegates committees will consider my bills. This will likely present new challenges given the partisan differences between the chambers. As always, please share your views and suggestions with me at email@example.com