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Delegates See Budget, Jobs, Transparency as Key Issues

January 25, 2012

By Mason Brown
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the General Assembly enters the third week of its 2012 session, the delegates representing the Hopewell-area – Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg and Riley Ingram of Hopewell – took time to discuss their legislative goals.

Cox, the Republican majority leader in the House of Delegates, said his major focus is simple: passing a state budget for the next two years. But he has other goals, such as ensuring adequate funding for programs such as the Virginia Retirement System.

“If every state employee wanted to retire today, which wouldn’t happen, we would only be able to pay 70 percent of them,” Cox said. “If every teacher wanted to retire, we would only be able to pay 65 percent. We have got to bring those numbers up.”

During the 60-day session, Dance, a Democrat, hopes to promote employment opportunities.

“One thing is certain,” Dance said. “It’s not the about the party politics with these issues; it’s about the business communities.”

Ingram, a Republican who has served in the House for two decades, wants to maintain government transparency. He opposes bills that would remove government notices from newspapers.

“I rely on newspapers for foreclosures, city and county zoning ordinances, among other things,” Ingram said. “I feel people need to know and we need to keep the government as open as possible.”

Cox: Craft a Budget, Help Military

Cox said he hopes Virginia will be able to set aside $600 million in its rainy day fund by 2014. Rainy day funds are a type of savings account governments can tap for emergencies.

Cox also wants to eliminate what he sees as budget gimmicks, such as the accelerated sales tax, a requirement that many businesses pre-pay their July sales tax in June to boost the state’s year-end revenue. And he wants to limit new state programs.

Cox said the state’s Federal Action Contingency Trust fund also will be used to offset cuts from the federal government. Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed adding $20 million to this fund.

“You don’t want to create new programs that don’t make any sense,” Cox said. “We are going to support the FACT fund and really push for that rainy day fund.”

Another budget issue is the Virginia Retirement System, the pension plan for state employees. Because of the stock market slump and other factors, VRS doesn’t have enough money to pay future retirees.

More employee contributions will be required to fix VRS, Cox said.

“We can’t control the stock market; however, we can control what goes into contributions,” Cox said.

Historically, state employees have not had to contribute to the VRS. Last year, the state required employees to contribute 5 percent toward VRS but matched that with a 5 percent pay raise. This year, McDonnell has proposed a 1 percent increase in state employee contributions without a corresponding salary increase. State employees say that amounts to a pay cut.

Cox said he expects a lot of debate over raising employee contributions, but he sees the increase as necessary.

Besides the budget, the Republican majority leader is pursuing bills that would help the Virginia Department of Veterans Services assist injured service personnel returning home to Virginia.

“More and more folks come back with some sort of disability. They have to file a claim and be evaluated and have that claim rated,” Cox said. “Sometimes it can take up to a year in order to get help.”

Cox has introduced House Bill 1121, which increase the number of claims representatives serving Virginia’s veterans. “I feel like once they get home, they’ve earned it, so we need to try to expedite the process,” Cox said.

On Tuesday, HB 1121 won unanimous approval from the House General Laws Committee.
Dance: Boost Employment, Education

Like many legislators this session, Dance is championing jobs in Virginia. This was the primary concern voiced by her constituents during a telephone town hall meeting she held in December.

“They are the bosses. That’s who I listen to,” Dance said.

More jobs require better infrastructure. Dance said improvements in the transportation system will be vital to help get goods to market and workers to work sites.

Education is another of Dance’s concerns. She is a proponent of dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take a class and receive both high school and community college credit for it. Dance believes these programs help young people get the education they need to succeed in the workplace.

Dance also said she will work to bolster programs in science, technology, education, mathematics and health care because of their importance in the current job market.

In the December town hall meeting, Dance’s constituents raised concerns about Medicaid. Dance plans to “hold the line on Medicaid” and ensure its availability to people who need it.

Dance also hopes to make the roads safer. She is sponsoring HB 497, which would prohibit using a cellphone or any other handheld communication device while driving. Current law bars only texting and emailing while driving.

Ingram: Help Fund Water Treatment Upgrade

The Hopewell water treatment facility needs an upgrade, and Ingram wants to lessen the financial blow to area residents.

“We need additional money. So far, Hopewell has had to bite the bullet. But in order to do all that needs to be done, it will be up to localities and us [the state] to get this upgrade done,” Ingram said.

So Ingram and Dance have introduced HB 1180. It would authorize the Virginia Public Building Authority to “issue an additional $300 million in bonds to continue installing nutrient removal technology in eligible wastewater treatment facilities.”

These facilities require upgrades mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. If the state does not help pay for the work, it could hit Hopewell residents hard in their water bills.

Ingram also opposes bills to remove the requirement that local governments publish official notices in local newspapers. For example, HB 234 says that for the sale of foreclosed timeshare properties, local governments could simply publish in the newspaper a link to a website with the pertinent details.

Ingram views such proposals as a threat to government transparency.

“I feel we need to keep the government as open as possible, to as many citizens as possible,” said Ingram, noting that not all citizens have access to a computer or the Internet.

How to Contact Your Legislators

Delegate M. Kirkland Cox
66th House District: Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County
Phone: 804-698-1066 at Capitol Square; 804-526-5135 at his district office in Colonial Heights
Email: DelKCox@house.virginia.gov

Delegate Rosalyn R. Dance
63rd House District: Petersburg, part of Hopewell and parts of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George counties
Phone: 804-698-1063 at Capitol Square; 804-862-2922 at her district office in Petersburg
Email: DelRDance@house.virginia.gov

Delegate Riley E. Ingram
62nd House District: Part of Hopewell and parts of Chesterfield, Henrico and Prince George counties.
Phone: 804-698-1062 at Capitol Square; 804-458-9873 at his district office in Hopewell
Email: DelRIngram@house.virginia.gov

This CNS article was published by The Progress-Index.