Lawmakers: Budget dominated GA session

Published 8:05 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FRANKLIN—Lawmakers fresh off a tense and jam-packed legislative session in the General Assembly took time Tuesday morning to debrief with constituents, especially about the state budget and how federal funds helped stave off massive cuts.

State Sens. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Frederick M. Quayle, R-Suffolk, and Delegates William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, and Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, were on hand at the Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce to summarize and take questions on the most recent 46-day legislative session and give a hint of what is to come.

“This was unlike any year we have ever experienced,” Lucas told the crowd. “Going into the session we were facing huge budget cuts across the board. Fortunately we were able to get money from the (federal) stimulus package and plug some of those holes in the dike.”

Quayle said much of the session was focused on the budget. A limit on the number of bills that were allowed to be introduced allowed lawmakers to stay focused, he said.

Out of the nearly 2,500 bills that were introduced, 1,500 passed, Quayle said.

Funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act — $4.8 billion for Virginia — helped stave off cuts suggested by Gov. Tim Kaine, Quayle said, although he warned that it was a quick fix.

“That money doesn’t come to you in a check and they tell you ‘spend this any way you want.’ Most of it has strings attached.”

Quayle said the ARRA funds will help the state budget for the next couple years but that localities should be prepared in the event that the economy doesn’t pick up.

Quayle said he doesn’t think the legislators have seen the last of two bills that failed — one to give the governor the authority to run for a second consecutive term and another to restore civil rights to non-violent felons.

Quayle said he voted against a measure that would extend unemployment funds because there were too many rules attached that would cost the state in the long run, including allowing unemployment compensation to be paid to part-time workers.

“This $125 million would have required that we change rules and regulations for unemployment compensation in Virginia on a permanent basis,” he said. “The 125 million was only from the stimulus funds for two years. After that, we would have to pass the cost on to businesses. I felt it was more important to create jobs so there was an incentive when we come out of this recession to hire more people.”

Tyler echoed the others’ sentiments about the stimulus money being temporary.

“This is not going to be permanent income,” she said, adding that the state had already received 9,000 requests.

Still, she said, she was glad for the immediate results from the federal funds.

“That stimulus money saved over 7,000 state jobs,” she said.

The fight against putting an outlying landing field in the district also will continue to be a legislative issue, Tyler said.

“I continue to support that cause because this is going to have a long-term effect,” she said.

An audience member asked whether the legislators would follow North Carolina’s example and introduce a bill that bans the Navy from taking property for an OLF.

“We won’t have any problems introducing a bill,” Tyler said.

Barlow lauded the bipartisan effort to ban smoking in restaurants and bars where food is served, even though the bill went through several incarnations before being passed.

“Sometimes it takes many, many years to get through the General Assembly,” he said.

Barlow said he was especially proud of the unprecedented bill that will allow former Smithfield Police Lt. Kurt Beach to collect money after contracting Hepatitis C during a call in which he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a sick infant and became sick several years after the statute of limitations ran out on a possible workman’s comp claim.

Beach recently had a liver transplant and is reportedly doing well, Barlow said.

“That will extend his life another 10-12 years,” he said, complimenting the other three lawmakers on their persistence.

“Many of their staff members were saying ‘You can’t do this,’ but these folks had the courage to stand up and say ‘We will do it.’”

Barlow said he is still unhappy with transportation issues — a subject the General Assembly took on during a 2008 summer special session.

“We’re not providing the money that is needed for our transportation system — the third largest road system in the U.S. behind California and Texas,” he said.

Barlow said he also is on the phone daily with the governor’s office to stop a move that would shut down ferry rides between Surry County and Jamestown for six or seven hours each day.