By 19th District Delegate Terry Austin
The final week of session concluded on February 24. It has been a busy two months, and I am proud of the work we were able to accomplish in the House of Delegates. This session produced a stark contrast for Virginia. While the controversies of the Democratic statewide office holders cast a pall over our commonwealth, the Republican-led General Assembly has delivered leadership and results on the issues that matter most.
Despite these serious distractions taking place elsewhere on Capitol Square, and thanks to the leadership of Speaker Kirk Cox, we focused on getting our job done in a timely and responsible manner. Among other accomplishments, we balanced the budget without raising taxes, raised teacher pay by 5 percent, allocated money to improve school safety, and provided a mechanism for our higher education public institutions to provide more affordable tuition rates.
We balanced the budget as our constitution requires without raising taxes, unwinding over $1 billion in new spending proposed by Governor Northam and the Democrats. The budget includes no tax or fee increases and incorporates $120 million in healthcare savings as a result of lower than expected Medicaid costs and updated forecasting language.
As mentioned previously, we have included funding for a 5 percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education. This is the fourth teacher pay raise in six years. The budget also makes targeted investments in our “at risk” programs; every student deserves a fair shot at an education regardless of their zip code. School safety was a major priority for the General Assembly this year and our budget reflects that, including approximately $12 million in funding for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe in schools. Specific to the 19th District, we are pleased to have received a budget allocation of $400,000 for the proposed merger of the Alleghany County and the City of Covington public school systems.
In the higher education field, the budget takes a huge step on higher education affordability. We included $57 million to freeze tuition at our colleges and universities, and increased funding for financial aid by $16 million. Virginia has the nation’s best higher education system, but we must continually strive to ensure that it is affordable and accessible. The state budget also includes a three percent pay raise for state employees. Our state employees are the backbone of Virginia government and often go without recognition. Finally, the budget includes longstanding language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions.
As for my bills, I am happy to report that they have made it to the Governor’s desk and await his signature to become law. HB2182 will allow a locality the opportunity to leverage previously unused and underutilized real property to promote economic development and expand its tax base. It passed unanimously through the Senate last Wednesday. HB2183, which will expedite the testing process for drivers seeking their Commercial Driver’s License, also passed unanimously through both the House and Senate. HB2622 seeks to place a child who has been removed from his or her home to be placed with family members if at all possible. This bill passed both chambers unanimously. HB2411, of which I am chief co-patron, passed through the Senate unanimously. This bill will provide more resources to landowners so that they are better protected from the predatory practices of illegal timber cutting.
It is important for me to reiterate that we were not distracted by the Democratic scandals that rocked the Commonwealth this year. And since it appears that all three statewide elected officials intend to stay in office, despite bipartisan calls for their resignation, it is more important than ever to make sure that the Republican-led General Assembly can be a check and balance on the Governor and his party.
As the 2019 regular session has concluded and my office returns home, I look forward to meeting with you, the constituents of the 19th District, to provide more detailed updates from the General Assembly. I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me or my legislative aide Matt Miller at (540) 254-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.