By Destiny Brandon
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – As the General Assembly convened for its 2013 session, Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, said his top priorities are to increase funding for K-12 education in southwestern Virginia and authorize local governments to levy a severance tax on coal.
“I’m very concerned with K-12 funding,” Puckett, who has been a legislator for 15 years, said in an interview after the assembly convened and Gov. Bob McDonnell delivered his State of the Commonwealth address.
Puckett said he has reservations about McDonnell’s support for charter schools. Those are tax-funded schools that are operated by outside organizations (such as a group of parents and teachers) and that are freed from the rules regular public schools must follow.
“I’m not a charter school person,” Puckett said. He said he thinks such programs take money from public education. “We have no money. In order to support charter schools, we would have to take from public education funding.”
Another area of interest for Puckett is coal and gas severance taxes. He is sponsoring Senate Bill 918, which would clean up language in existing law and authorize counties and cities to levy a tax on coal.
“The rate of tax shall be one percent of the gross income from mining coal within the locality,” the bill says. It says the revenues would be used for water and sewer utilities, economic development and other purposes.
Puckett represents the 38th Senate District in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia. It includes Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Pulaski, Russell and Tazewell counties; parts of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise counties; and the cities of Norton and Radford.
Tazewell County’s commissioner of revenue, David Anderson, believes the coal severance tax would greatly impact the county.
“Coal is a vital part of income for this county. Coal pays taxes and employs (workers) in southwestern Virginia,” Anderson said.
SB 918 is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
So far, Puckett has filed 18 bills for consideration this session. They include:
- SB 704, which would add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees entitled to a presumption that hypertension and heart disease and certain infectious illnesses are occupational diseases under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.
- SB 819, which would re-establish the Tourist Train Development Authority. The authority’s board would consist of representatives from the governing bodies of Tazewell County and the towns of Bluefield and Pocahontas; four citizens from Tazewell County; and two legislators.
- SB 820, which establishes conditions under which billboard signs may be relocated if the site of the billboard is acquired by eminent domain in connection with a highway project.