The Landes Letter
By Delegate R. Steven Landes
February 11, 2019
The 2019 session is entering its final two weeks. Last week was certainly a busy one here at the Capitol. Last Sunday the House Appropriations Committee released proposed amendments to the two-year budget, Tuesday was crossover, where all bills that originated in the House have been considered and now head to the Senate and vice-versa, and on Thursday, the House of Delegates passed responsible and balanced budget amendments. The House and Senate will negotiate the final terms of the budget over the next two weeks.
Last week we passed amendments to the two-year budget that eliminate all spending based on higher taxes proposed by Governor Ralph Northam and include additional investments in public education, school safety, higher education, and economic development. During the budget debate, we saw a fundamental difference between House Republicans, who believe the money should be returned to the taxpayers, and House Democrats, who want to spend excess revenues in an attempt to increase the size of government.
The budget also identifies $120 million in healthcare savings, strengthens taxpayer protections in the Medicaid forecasting process, eliminates unfunded liabilities and saves $729 million in state spending over the next quarter-century. The budget includes a record investment of nearly $19 million specifically for school safety. This budget doubles the funding for School Security Grant funding to $12 million and increases the award cap to $200,000 per grant application; increases funding for School Resource Officers by $3 million; and provides funding for school safety training at Virginia schools ($1.3 million) among other investments.
The budget increases higher education funding by $54 million compared to the adopted budget and prioritizes higher education affordability by including $45 million to incentivize colleges and universities to hold tuition flat at 2019 levels. The budget also includes $5.2 million to increase Tuition Assistance Grant funding for students who attend Virginia’s private colleges and universities and provides $27.9 million to increase computer science degree production as part of the Tech Talent Pipeline Initiative.
This is a responsible budget that puts taxpayers first. I am pleased to note a number of my budget amendments were included, as well as a number of cost saving amendments that will save over $8 million in general funds. You can learn more about my amendments here.
House Budget Conferees
Last Thursday, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) named me to the conference committee for the state budget bill, House Bill 1700. Other conferees include House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Delegates Chris Peace (R-Hanover), Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg), Luke Torian (D-Prince William), and Mark Sickles (D-Arlington).
In addition to the investments we are making in our school teachers, I am proud of the investments we are making to ensure our children are safe while in school. These budget amendments are all a direct result of the House Select Committee on School Safety which I was honored to be a member of. I commend the committee for the hard work and dedication they put in that resulted in the budget we passed last week.
“Our team is a dedicated group of conferees who will work together to reach a final balanced and responsible budget,” said Speaker Cox of the conferees. “This team will be able to articulate the House of Delegates' position clearly to our Senate colleagues as we begin to finalize the budget. I am grateful for all of their hard work on behalf of the House and the people of Virginia. I encourage our conferees to begin to work with their Senate colleagues as quickly as possible so we can reach a final agreement on the budget.”
Chairman Jones said of the budget, "This budget was crafted by removing from consideration any revenue based on the federal tax changes and to eliminate any spending based on that revenue. This set the foundation for the Committee’s work, and I am pleased with our final product.” Adding, “I would like to thank Vice Chairman Landes for his diligent work and contributions during this process. I look forward to working with him and the House conferees and Senate conferees to complete our work on the 2018-2020 budget.”
House & Senate Agreement on $1 Billion in Tax Relief
Republicans in the House and Senate have agreed on the terms of a $1 billion tax relief package, the most significant tax relief plan in at least 15 years and the second largest tax cut in Virginia history. The legislation is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate today, and will then be sent to Governor Northam.
The bicameral compromise will provide $420 million in tax refunds to Virginia taxpayers in October of 2019; increase the standard deduction by fifty percent beginning in tax year 2019; maintain the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT); and include key business tax provisions for Virginia’s largest job creators. The total package will guarantee at least $976 million in tax relief and ensure that all additional revenues from the permanent provisions of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are placed in the state’s cash reserve fund. The legislation also conforms Virginia tax law to the federal law, but unfortunately will not include an emergency clause.
Under this plan, married couples will receive a tax refund check of up to $220 in October and beginning next year, will receive $173 in tax relief on their state taxes, for a total of $400 back over the next two years. This is simple, direct, and meaningful tax relief.
Updates on My Legislation
I am pleased the majority of my bills have been passed by the House of Delegates. House Bills 1611, 1615, 1657, 1729, 2306, 2336, 2337, 2457, 2662, 2718, and 2809, all advanced to the Senate for consideration. These bills include topics such as improving Interstate 81, making Prepaid529 tuition contracts more affordable, and ensuring our school counselors spend at least 80 percent of their staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students.
2019 Legislative Survey Results
On Tuesday, I released the results of the annual 25th House District Legislative Survey. The survey was issued in December. Approximately 250 constituents completed the 10 question survey where the issues of keeping Virginians safe from crime, supporting K-12 schools and higher education, and fostering jobs and economic development received strong support from respondents. I have conducted a legislative survey during each of my 24 years of service in the General Assembly and I am truly grateful to the constituents of the 25th House District who took the time to complete this survey. These surveys help to provide me insight into the thoughts and opinions of the people I work hard to represent. These responses help keep me apprised of people’s opinions back home and aid me as how to best represent the 25th District in the House of Delegates. The survey results may be viewed online here. Some key results from the survey include:
- 26.38% of respondents listed keeping Virginians safe from crime as the number one response for the most important core service provided by state government, followed closely by 25.53% of respondents who answered supporting K-12 schools and higher education.
- 80.77% support realigning the responsibilities of school counselors so the majority of their time is spent providing direct student services rather than on administrative work.
- 88.35% support lowering the cost of Prepaid529 contracts by lowering the pricing reserve when the fund is above 105% funded status.
- 90.91% believe support requiring hospitals or healthcare providers to show upfront clear cost information before providing the service.
- 38.16% believe Interstate 81 improvements should be funded by tolls on heavy trucks and Out-of-state residents, followed by 32.89% who support raising gas and transportation taxes statewide.
- 34.55% believe investing in workforce training to ensure Virginia has skilled workers to fill jobs is the best way to spend public dollars to encourage more economic development and job growth.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Matt Gibson with Virginia Humanities; Mary Sandy of Virginia Space Grant Consortium and student Abby Dwelle (pictured right); Lisa Botkin and Greg Campbell of the Shenandoah Regional Airport; members of the Leadership Greater Augusta class; and Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine. I would also like to thank everyone that joined me at Saturday’s Town Hall meeting in Crozet. We had a packed room and lively discussions! and Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine. I would also like to thank everyone that joined me at Saturday’s Town Hall meeting in Crozet. We had a packed room and lively discussions!
My staff enjoyed meeting with members of Moms Demand Action from Crozet, Laura Swift of Charlottesville, and Mary Ann Gilmore of Goodwill Industries of the Valleys.
In Case You Missed It
As always, my Legislative Director, Judy Wyatt, Communications Director, Will Wrobleski, and I are here to serve you. If you need help with a state government agency or issue, we can be reached by phone at 804.698.1025 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our address is Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23219. For scheduling requests, please contact my Administrative Assistant Pam Stump in my Richmond office.
Please visit my website at www.stevelandes.com for my latest press releases and newsletters. Also, be sure to “like” my Facebook Fan Page or you can now follow me on Twitter @steve_landes by clicking the buttons below:
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.