The 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly has adjourned after passing historic legislation that will fund our crippled transportation network and approving a compromise budget.
Speaking on the Senate floor immediately before the transportation vote, I said “This is not a perfect bill. There is a lot I disagree with, but it solves a problem that impacts both the economic well-being and the safety of our citizens. For the first time in 27 years, we have a meaningful solution to funding our transportation needs. I would have preferred raising the gas tax and not the sales tax, but the budget conferees took a different approach and in the end their approach creates a dedicated, sustainable and realistic source of revenue to improve our roads. We are sent here to solve problems and this legislation solves one of the most difficult we have faced for decades. It is a compromise, it is bi-partisan and it is the right thing to do.”
Legislators are unable to alter a conference report - it is an up or down vote on the entire plan. Although I would have preferred raising the gas tax rather than the sales tax and I oppose taxing hybrid vehicles, I voted for the plan because it is imperative we generate funds to improve our transportation infrastructure. I will offer legislation next year to repeal the hybrid tax.
This plan will raise more than $1 billion per year for transportation. In Hampton Roads, we will receive $175 - $200 million each year for projects in our area, including the widening of I-64 from Newport News to Richmond.
The General Assembly also approved adjustments to the 2012–2014 biennial budget. The priorities were to improve compensation for state employees, teachers and support staff and college faculty. We made additional investments in K-12 and higher education. We also funded 200 new Intellectual Disability and 50 Developmental Disability waiver slots, appropriated funds to improve school safety and reserved money for the Rainy Day Fund.
One of the most significant items in the budget is a provision that begins the process to expand health care coverage for 400,000 Virginians. I support the legislation for the following reasons: Expansion will create 27,000 new jobs in the Commonwealth. The federal government will pay 100% of the cost for the first three years and never less than 90% - currently they pay only one-half. Expanding Medicaid saves the Commonwealth $17 million per year. If expansion is not in place by the start of 2014, we will lose $5 million every day.
This session of the General Assembly will be remembered as one of the most productive in recent history. Passing the funding plan for transportation was historic and we set in motion the expansion of health care coverage for 400,000 uninsured citizens. Legislation allowing uranium mining in the Commonwealth was stricken because of lack of support. I opposed efforts to place further restrictions on voting and to efforts to weaken public education by grading schools and allowing the state take over failing schools. I am very pleased the governor adopted my idea of reducing the number of SOL tests in the 3rd grade for the schools in the Commonwealth with the worst reading scores. Passing legislation through both the House and Senate can often be a long and difficult process. After five years, I was successful in passing one of my most gratifying bills. All of our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice will now be properly honored in the Shrine of Memory at the Virginia War Memorial.
Please feel free to contact me in my Newport News office at 595-1100 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator John Miller