Thank you for the privilege of representing you, the people of the 33rd House District, (the best district in the Commonwealth, BTW). Below is a post-session recap of overall progress, followed by some measures I applied much of my energy to passing.
We adjourned sine die Saturday, completing our work on time. This year, the House of Delegates worked tirelessly to strengthen Virginia’s economy to help middle class families, improve our education system so all children have the opportunity to succeed, and chart a responsible fiscal course for the future. We continue to offer a positive governing vision for our Commonwealth.
To help strengthen Virginia’s economy, the House of Delegates advanced several major pieces of legislation aimed at fostering private-sector economic growth, promoting a positive pro-business climate, and protecting small businesses through regulatory reform. Republicans in the House of Delegates are also leading the effort to review Virginia’s economic development spending to ensure that we are maximizing the effectiveness of your tax dollars.
Improving our education system is a top priority. That is why a 2% teacher pay raise was a priority in this year’s budget.
We also recognize there is room for innovation in the classroom so all students can learn in a way that best fits their needs. The House passed legislation to create Education Savings Accounts for parents and took steps to finalize the establishment of Virginia’s virtual school. This legislation, combined with our investments in public schools, will help make sure all children have the opportunity to succeed.
One of the most important tasks of the General Assembly is crafting the two-year state budget. I am happy to report that the House of Delegates passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced amended budget that invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources.
Here are the highlights of the amended 2016-2018 state budget:
- The budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians.
- 3% salary increase for state employees
- We are investing over $18 million in new funding for K-12 more than Governor McAuliffe proposed. Our funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility to spend the money as best fits them.
- We’ve secured $32 million for a 2% teacher pay raise, with no local match required, effective February 2018.
- We are providing over $20 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families.
- We are making strategic investments in economic development, but adding additional oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
- The budget does not include Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Instead, we continue to build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net.
I carried several important pieces of legislation this year:
Protecting Our Most Foundational God-given Rights
The Virginia House of Delegates passed my HR 431 Campus Free Speech Resolution which is designed to ensure free expression at Virginia’s public university systems. The Resolution advises public institutions of higher education to protect free speech, and it communicates the urgent need for the governing board of each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to develop and adopt a policy on free speech.
Virginia is the cradle of democracy, and it is a disgrace that many universities have lost track of the idea that it is their responsibility to uphold free-speech principles. Each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth should ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation by enrolled students, whether on or off campus. Our taxpayer-funded universities in Virginia, instead of being champions of free speech are creating “safe spaces" and idea-free zones, where disagreement is prohibited on campuses. The truth is this kind of challenge to campus free speech is now widespread. By passing this measure, we are communicating to universities and the public that students are in school to learn how to think; they are not going to college to be protected from differing opinions. This resolution will put down a marker as a precursor for next session when I will follow up with legislation to assure universities take this seriously.
This resolution, drafted in collaboration with the Goldwater Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, brings Virginia into the national debate on how best to address the ever-growing threats to freedom of thought and expression at our publicly-funded colleges and universities.
“The Goldwater Institute helped draft this resolution which takes a much needed step toward making entire college campuses free speech zones,” said Jonathan Butcher, education policy director at the Goldwater Institute and co-author of the report. “This resolution takes that concept and puts it into a forceful statement which will move toward protecting all forms of free expression on college campuses in publicly-funded colleges in Virginia.”
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and voters,” said Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “This resolution reminds universities of their obligation to model the First Amendment values that they are supposed to be teaching the next generation.”
Similar efforts are underway at the Federal level. See: Federal Funding and Campus Free Speech: A Proposal “The first duty of a legislature is to protect the rights of its citizens. Speech at public colleges and universities already falls under the protection of the First Amendment, while most private colleges explicitly promise a high level of free speech rights to prospective applicants (which courts generally take as a contractual pledge). Yet in today’s academy, First Amendment rights, however guaranteed or promised, are regularly ignored and infringed. On its face, then, legislative remedies at the level of the state need to be considered. If a legislator is obligated to defend anything, it is our most basic individual rights.”- Stanley Kurtz
Constitutional Amendment Resolution to Guard Transportation Funding
Seeking to address the need for stability in Virginia transportation funding, the House and Senate passed a measure I introduced, House Joint Resolution 693. The House finalized passage Saturday morning just one hour before the close of session with a vote of 71-23. Passing this resolution is the first step in a three step process before an amendment to the Virginia Constitution can become law. Resolutions are not subject to veto by the governor. An amendment must pass the legislature in identical form in two consecutive sessions and then be approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide referendum.
Making significant improvements to transportation in the Commonwealth means playing the long game. Passing HB2 in 2014 sent a strong message to the people & businesses in Virginia. A constitutional lockbox on transportation builds on and expands that commitment and eventually will improve road and bridge conditions, safety and will help save dollars especially on large projects. This lockbox requires the General Assembly to maintain permanent and separate Transportation Funds to include the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, Transportation Trust Fund, Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund, and other funds established by general law for transportation, and restrict raiding of dedicated transportation funds. It can be overridden in an emergency with a two thirds plus one vote of the legislature.
Transportation is foundational to commerce, education, public safety, tourism, and much more; all depend on good roads and transit. People are seeing real progress as we address local transportation needs and they expect that to continue. There is a backlog of transportation needs: 5% of VDOT-maintained bridges (over 1000 bridges) are currently classified as deficient, 40% of secondary road pavement is rated as deficient, and while the recent SmartScale application process brought over $8.5 billion in requests, only $1 billion of funding was available.
It is interesting to look at the history of raids on transportation funds; in 1991, Gov. Doug Wilder shifted $200 million from the transportation trust fund to balance the budget. In 2002, outgoing Gov. Jim Gilmore proposed using $317 million in transportation trust fund revenue. In 2003, Gov. Mark Warner actually took that $317 million and also diverted another $143 million in general funds dedicated to specific transportation projects in the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000. And in 2007, Gov. Kaine diverted $180 million from highway construction projects. While these monies are eventually restored, it hurts progress overall. The goal is to pass the resolution again in the 2018 session and have it on a statewide ballot referendum in Nov. 2018.
Improving Education by Thinking Outside the Box
With the support of leadership in the House, including our Education committee, we passed my Parental Choice Education Savings Account bill. The measure for progress in education many have been using for decades is dollars spent. Flat academic outcomes make it clear it is necessary to stop blocking innovation.
I hope you will stay connected with me over the coming months. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way, and please pray for my team.
It is a privilege to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. However, my term expires this year unless the voters of the 33rd District choose to extend it this November.
I do my best to deliver solid results, so please let me know if you, my constituents, would like me to stay on the job. I’d love to hear from you on this, as another candidate, who looks to be tied to a very different ideology, is seeking this position.