The end of the 2017 General Assembly Session is in sight with two weeks left before Sine Die. The session up through this point has been very positive for Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce priorities. At this point in the session, the attention turns to the budget as this week both chambers will reject the other chamber’s budget bill and budget conferees will be appointed to develop a single budget bill to be sent to Governor McAuliffe.
If appointments to the conference committee are consistent with past years, we can expect Senators Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), as well as Delegates Tag Greason (R-Loudoun) and Luke Torian (D-Prince William), to serve on the conference committee from Northern Virginia
Over the course of this session, the Chamber’s top priority has been restoration of funding for the innovative GO Virginia regional economic development initiative introduced just last year. Thankfully, due to advocacy from the Northern Virginia Chamber and many business groups and other partners across the Commonwealth, both the House and Senate budgets include restoration of $7.5 million in funding for the initiative. The restoration of $7.5 million in GO Virginia funding was the single largest budget item restoration in both the Senate and House budget bills. This level of funding will ensure that each of the nine regions around the Commonwealth have $650,000 to establish regional councils and conduct an economic gap analysis. After this initial process concludes, $12.2 million will be distributed throughout the nine regions on a per capita basis to be used for projects identified by the regional council, with an additional $10 million to be awarded through a competitive award process governed by the state GO Virginia board.
Additionally, the Northern Virginia Chamber has strongly advocated to restore funding to the Inova Center for Personalized Health for their Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Institute. Another initiative that the Chamber supported last year to bring in new investment in the area of bioscience and genomics research, this effort is already delivering on its promise for our region due to unique partnerships Inova has forged with George Mason University and the University of Virginia. . The Senate budget restores $4 million, while the House budget contains $2 million. The final amount of funding will be decided by the budget conferees, and the Northern Virginia Chamber will be communicating in our message to the conferees our support for the Senate approach and its restoration of the full $4 million.
Both the Senate and House budget bills have maintained funding levels for K-12 that were approved last year during the biennium budget, with some new investment for K-12 above the Governor’s introduced budget.
As it relates to higher education, the House and Senate differ on their approach to funding for the remainder of this biennium. The Senate version upholds the 5% across the board cuts to higher education proposed by the Governor, but does include $17 million in funding to provide higher education faculty with a 2% compensation increase. The House budget, however, bill reduces the across the board cuts to higher education to 1.4%. In order to achieve a level of 1.4% for both the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and George Mason University, the House has proposed $11.9 million in funding for VCCS and $3.2 million in funding for Mason to equalize the cuts. This is another area that will likely see significant discussion when the conferees meet to work out differences in the two approaches.
Taxation and Regulation
House Bill 1961, put forth by Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) at the request of the Northern Virginia Chamber, directs the Department of Taxation to issue a regulation consistent with the Virginia Supreme Court ruling in Arlington v. Nielsen. This regulation will create a level playing field for businesses as it relates to appointment of BPOL Tax. The bill was first approved on a unanimous vote of 95-0 in the House of Delegates, and subsequently approved by a unanimous vote in the Senate 39-0. The Chamber will be communicating our support for this bill to Governor McAuliffe to ensure it becomes law.
Broadband Deployment Act
Throughout the 2017 session, the Northern Virginia Chamber has supported House Bill 2108, a bill carried by Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg) which deals with broadband deployment by local governments or governmental authorities. The bill, as amended, enhances transparency when local governments or authorities expand into the broadband development business by eliminating an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
It is important to the business community to ensure that when local governments or authorities enter into a service that competes with the private sector that it is done on a level playing field and that taxpayers are able to ensure their tax dollars are expended appropriately. The House passed this bill 72-24, and the Senate will take up consideration of the bill this week.
The Northern Virginia Chamber has supported Senate Bill 1282, a bill dealing with wireless infrastructure deployment, patroned by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover). The bill provides a uniform procedure for approval of wireless communications infrastructure by localities and approval and installation in public rights-of-way for next generation “small cell” facilities. After considerable negotiation between the wireless industry and local governments, the bill was amended to include only small cell facilities. This is an important bill for the future of wireless technology in Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth as a whole, and this legislation will streamline the process for deployment of this important infrastructure.
Before amendments, Senate Bill 1282 passed the Senate largely on a party line vote. However, with amendments the bill is up for consideration by the full House after passing on a unanimous, bipartisan vote in the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Metro Safety Commission
Legislation ratifying the Metro Safety Commission, a core Northern Virginia Chamber priority for the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session, is on track for passage by the General Assembly and ultimately approval by Governor McAuliffe.
However, a setback to this positive momentum occurred on Friday when the Federal Transit Administration announced they would withhold millions of dollars in statewide transit funding because the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia failed to approve the commission by the federal government’s prescribed deadline. This is particularly frustrating because all three jurisdictions have made significant progress in approving this legislation by a deadline that most agree was untenable, and losing federal transit funding puts more stress on already tight transit budgets in all three jurisdictions.
The Metro Safety Commission is a federally mandated commission that will operate with complete autonomy to oversee safety of the Washington Metrorail System. The governing bodies of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia must approve identical language to properly enact the safety commission.
Transportation Funding Lockbox
House Joint Resolution 693, patroned by Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun), is a constitutional amendment that would require the General Assembly to maintain permanent and separate Transportation Funds and limits the ability of the General Assembly to use the fund monies for purposes other than transportation– i.e., a transportation funding lockbox. The Chamber supports this effort as it is consistent with our position to protect funding dedicated to transportation, particularly now as our region is raising funds specifically for that purpose. In the case of an emergency, however, the amendment does allow the General Assembly to borrow from transportation funds for other purposes by a vote of two-thirds plus one of the members voting in each house, requiring the loan to be repaid with reasonable interest within four years. This is a good policy for funding that is so critical to the well-being on our region.
The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee will consider House Joint Resolution 693 this week after the House approved the measure with a strong majority of support.
Regional Motor Fuels Tax Floor
The Chamber strongly supports implementation of a floor to the regional motor fuels tax in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The full Senate approved a bill to address this issue, Senate Bill 1456 carried by Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), however the House Finance Committee moved to lay the bill on the table on Monday morning, effectively killing the bill for this year.
Senator Wagner’s bill would implement a technical fix necessary because of an oversight in the landmark 2013 transportation law, House Bill 2313. Due to this oversight, Northern Virginia has experienced a shortfall of $35 million for road and transit funding just this year. The Chamber joined a diverse group of business groups, transportation advocates, and the construction industry in supporting the effort, and will continue to advocate to make this reasonable correction to the Commonwealth’s transportation policy going into the 2018 General Assembly 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