We are now into the third full week of the 45-day “short session.” The dominant issue still being debated is the Commonwealth’s $1.2 billion budget shortfall, forcing a critical look at spending and taxing priorities in order to bring the budget back in to balance.
To address the shortfall, the Governor has proposed to use $567 million from the rainy day fund and hundreds of millions in additional spending reductions and tax adjustments. It is not all cuts, however, as the Governor has proposed new spending to address certain priorities as well as comply with mandatory spending requirements related to healthcare and other issues.
The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) and the Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairmen Tommy Norment (R-James City) and Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), released a joint statement on Wednesday indicating their budget bills will include a 3% raise for state employees; this was something the Governor had proposed to eliminate. The complete House and Senate budget bills, HB15000 and SB 900, will be released on Monday, February 5.
The Northern Virginia Chamber is continuing to work with the Governor’s office and both chambers of the General Assembly on a number of budget amendments for core Chamber priorities. Examples of some of the top budget priorities for the Chamber remain:
• Restoration of funding for GO Virginia
• Restoration of funding for Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Institute at the Inova Center for Personalized Health
• Preservation of Cost of Competing Adjustment funding for Northern Virginia schools
• The addition of funding for George Mason University in support of research, new initiatives, and financial aid.
• A $1 million increase in funding for the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program
In addition to addressing the budget, the Chamber is committed to advocating on those bills that will have a disproportionate impact on the business community and our regional business climate. Last week, the Chamber stood in opposition to a bill that sought to ease local government authority to implement single-industry taxes. Senate Bill 956 sought to eliminate the requirement of localities to hold a referendum before implementing a meals tax as well as increase the maximum tax allowable on prepared food from 4% to 8%. This bill failed to pass out of Committee. The Chamber stood in support of a Senate Bill 1296, which would require a three-year waiting period before a meals tax could be placed on the ballot after voters rejected it. This bill would also require localities to clearly state the total amount meals and prepared foods would be taxed.
This year, the Northern Virginia Chamber supports a series of bills designed to improve the tax atmosphere for business across our region. The Chamber is working with Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) to put forth a bill, House Bill 1961, that creates a level playing field for businesses as it relates to appointment of BPOL Tax - this bill was approved on a unanimous vote of 18-0 in the House Finance Committee and is now scheduled for the uncontested calendar on the House floor.
As it relates to transportation, the two top priority items the Chamber is putting its full support behind bills patroned by Del. Jim LeMunyon in the House, and Senator George Barker in the Senate, which will formally approve language to establish the federally mandated Metro Safety Commission. Approving these bills is critical to building upon the renewed safety culture at Metro, and will ensure that millions of federal transportation dollars dedicated to transit across Virginia are not put at risk. Delegate LeMunyon’ s bill advanced from sub-committee last week, both bills will now be heard by the full Senate and House transportation committees.
Additionally, the Chamber strongly supports implementation of a floor to the regional motor fuels tax in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The bill, carried by Senator Frank Wagner, was approved by the Senate Finance transportation subcommittee last week, and will be heard by the full Senate finance committee this week. Senator Wagner’s bill would implement a technical fix necessary because of a legislative oversight that was part of the landmark 2013 transportation law, HB2313. Due to this oversight, Northern Virginia has experienced a shortfall of $35 million for road and transit funding.
In addition, the Chamber worked with a number of business organizations to support Senator Dave Marsden’s bill SB 1468, which streamlines towing regulations in Northern Virginia, lowers the administrative burden on businesses, and creates new consumer protections with regard to towing.
We have had an active session thus far engaging in member-supported bills that aim to strengthen the business climate in the Commonwealth, and will continue to do so throughout the entire session. To keep up to date on the Chamber’s efforts in Richmond, be sure to follow the weekly recap and Doing Business newsletters, as well as participate in the weekly General Assembly update conference call each Friday morning at 8:00 AM. Call in information is below:
Call-in number: (641) 715-3580