Vogel’s View

Senator Jill H. Vogel

Legislative Update

August 20, 2012

 

Last week, I joined my fellow Finance Committee members for a meeting with the Governor on the Commonwealth’s economic outlook.  The briefing included a remarkably positive report of the state’s finances, announcing that the Commonwealth finished FY 2012 with a budget surplus of $448.5 million.  Some tough choices by the legislature and the Governor paid off and for the third straight year, the state brought in more revenue than forecasted and spent less than budgeted.  Much of this is attributable to recent reform measures, consolidation and savings requirements as well as the hard work of agency managers who were forced to be very frugal.

Unemployment numbers are also trending in the right direction in Virginia.  Our unemployment rate in Virginia dropped from 7.2% to 5.7% in the last two years, an overall drop of more than 20%.  It gives us a significantly lower unemployment rate than anywhere in the southeast.

The good news about our budget surplus has led to many questions about how the surplus will be used.  Parameters established by the legislature and the Constitution set forth how the surplus must be allocated.  This year, $78.3 million will be set aside for the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the Rainy Day Fund’s balance to $689 million.  That represents the highest balance since 2008 and the fifth highest balance ever.  In addition, $30 million of the surplus will go to the Federal Action Contingency Trust (FACT) Fund established to help absorb the expected negative impact of certain federal actions.  Another $132.3 million of the surplus will be allocated to higher education and nongeneral fund accounts.  $16.9 million will go to the Virginia Water Quality Fund to help meet the obligations under the Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP) to accelerate efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Since 2010, this means we will have committed $103.7 million from surplus to the Water Quality Improvement Fund.  Also, $20.9 million of the surplus will go to the Transportation Trust Fund and $17.2 million will be allocated to cover costs of several natural disasters that occurred in 2012.

Finally, one of the most significant impacts of the surplus is that it will allow state employees to receive the full 3% performance bonus payable on December 1. State employees have gone five years without a pay raise and that is an embarrassment.  We cannot afford to lose quality law enforcement, teachers and other state employees because they cannot earn a living in our state.

There is still a lot of budget work remaining in the late summer and fall as my subcommittees continue to meet for finance briefings, weighing impacts like healthcare changes and federal sequestration, the mandatory federal spending cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011. If the federal government embarks on the path of sequestration, the job loss alone will be 207,571 jobs, the second highest loss in the nation.

We continue to discuss the impact of changes in the Virginia Retirement System.  As a result of our reform bill in 2012, we were able to fund the highest employer contribution in VRS history, which includes $2.4 billion over two years in employer contributions for state employees, teachers and law enforcement.

Following meetings in Richmond last week, I joined the Virginia Circuit Court Clerks’ Association for their annual meeting in Portsmouth.  I was honored to be named their Legislator of the Year for budget and legislative work during the 2012 session.  It is certainly worth noting that everywhere there was evidence of the leadership of our local clerks.

As always, I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope that you will contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns.  You may reach me at 540-662-4551 or send an email totriciastiles@senate27.com or district27@senate.virginia.gov.

Senator Jill Vogel represents Virginia’s 27th district which includes Clarke and Frederick Counties, the city of Winchester, and parts of Fauquier and Loudoun Counties.

Comments

  1. Got-A-Dollar says:

    “State employees have gone five years without a raise” what about the 5 percent raise given to state employees to offset the required 5 percent contribution to their retirement system?
    A lot of taxpayers have gone without raises for a long time! How about giving the money back to the taxpayers, I thought that is what Republicans were all about.
    McDonnel can stop campaigning, Romney picked someone else!

  2. I’d rather see them repay the retirement system first

  3. Jay L. Marts says:

    I understand that there are existing guidelines on how the surplus is to be used & I applaud several of those applications, namely the $78M that went to the Revenue Stabilization Fund (“Rainy Day”). What I would like to see included is reform that lowers the tax burden on our citizens and some of this surplus returned from whence it came..!!

    I am glad that we were able to provide our State employees a bonus. I slightly disagree with your comment… “We cannot afford to lose quality law enforcement, teachers and other state employees because they cannot earn a living in our state.”

    If individuals want to move to another position that provides upward mobility and additional salary, we should encourage this. It is part of what makes our Nations great. It has been my experience that rarely do we have shortages in finding applicants for these positions. What I think should be done is to provide for merit pay. I believe this will provide us a better workforce, especially when funding is tight. We could retain the very best.!!!

    Additionally, with education being near 40% of our budget ($19.5B) we must do more to promote School Choice. I tend to feel that a universal, centrally planned system of tax-funded schools is not properly serving our community, State or Nation. I believe that competitive markets consistently do a better job of serving the public than state-run organizations. I believe this holds true in education as well. I think parental choice in a private educational market is a far more effective system for educating children than government-run schools.

    Thanks again for your service to the Commonwealth & we hope to have you back to visit our TEA Party again soon.

    • Merit pay for teaching is not the answer. How are you going to compare a 1st-grade class in, say, Clarke County with a 1st-grade class in Lee County in far SW Virginia? They don’t compare, because the socioeconomic status of the kids is vastly different, as is the access to technology or better resources or whatever.

      Education is not analagous to private industry, and it is a fallacy to think that it is. There is a decidedly mixed bag of data on the effects of vouchers or other “school choice” efforts out. For every charter school or whatever that offers some hope, there are programs and for-profit companies that don’t really have the students’ interests in heart, focusing instead of profit margins and that sort of thing.

      The other issue you ignore is that private schools have the ability to exclude whomever they wish, and have the means to do so (whether by high tuition, or whatever). Public schools, by law, must educate EVERY child that walks in the door. Thus, when you siphon already-tight funds from these schools to provide for “school choice” items like vouchers (which don’t really cover the full cost of private school tuition), you really make it harder to meet the needs of these students.

      The other laughable part of Sen. Vogel’s remarks is that teachers are not “state employees” like state troopers or those who work somewhere like the DMV or LFCC. So, that 3% bonus is not going to go to them.

      • Another View says:

        “Thus, when you siphon already-tight funds from these schools to provide for “school choice” items like vouchers (which don’t really cover the full cost of private school tuition), you really make it harder to meet the needs of these students.”

        “[A]ready-tight funds”? Americans spend more on public education than any other country in the world, but do not come close to obtaining commensurate results.

        The problem is the system. The government should not be in the education business, period. Let us amend the Virginia Constitution, and abolish public education. There’s a solution.

        • My 2 Cents says:

          I guess the entire county would be just like you in sending your kids to Powhatan……… There’s a real winner…..

          • Another View says:

            Powhatan, Shenandoah Christian Academy, Sacred Heart, St. Mary’s, and perhaps to any number of schools newly established to meet the community’s needs. And there would likely be home schooling.

            It is, indeed, a “WINNER”!

          • And they would receive a lovely “Christian” education. Unless of course, they maybe were not “Christian”…..which many are not. Opting instead for Morman, Agnostic, Buddism, Islam, etc.

            Teachers in private schools do not have to meet some requirements that public school teachers have to attain.

            Not to say, public schools need to stop the stupid standardized testing and teach things like critical thinking, right? I hope you don’t subscribe to the theory that critical thinking skills are bad….

  4. Fact is, government run schools are failing the country.

    http://broadeducation.org/about/crisis_stats.html

    • Government schools in other countries don’t suffer results as poor. One reason is that the school system is about educating. We waste time training for the test or having to keep fringe ideas out of the classroom. The cornerstone of democracy is an informed citizen – not an indoctrinated one.