The Dixie Pig was my grandmother's favorite restaurant on U.S. 1 formerly located across from Beacon Mall where a Rite Aid now stands.

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The Dixie Pig Blog

  • Weekly Column: Setting Budget Priorities

    Weekly Column: Setting Budget Priorities

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of July 15, 2018.
    Setting Budget Priorities

    Last week, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia finished the fiscal year with  $551.9 million more in revenue that we projected when writing this year’s budget. 
    First, the good news is that most of this surplus is due to increased tax revenue from payroll withholding taxes, not one-time revenue sources like capital gains or tax avoidance strategies related to the recent changes in federal tax laws.  The Virginia economy has truly started to perform again. 
    However, it is important to keep these numbers in context.  The state’s General Fund has been under significant stress over the decade since the Great Recession and automatic federal spending cuts caused by a process called a “sequester.”  In the nine years I have served in the General Assembly, this is the second fiscal year that the Commonwealth has experienced revenue growth equal to or greater than the historical average.

    Because of our state Constitution, other state laws and the budget, all of these  “new” funds are already allocated.  Our laws require that 10 percent or $55 million go to the Water Quality Improvement Fund and that the $500 million balance be contributed to Virginia’s Revenue Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund, which before the 2018 General Assembly session had dropped to historically low levels due to frequent, sluggish revenues.  Bond rating agencies had also expressed concern about the lower balances and had indicated that our AAA bond rating could be adversely impacted without significant contributions. 
    While everyone would love to have a tax cut, the General Assembly has enacted dozens of tax cuts over the past two decades, including car tax relief, estate tax repeal and removing the sales tax on food.  These tax cuts have completely offset the effect of any tax increases that passed.  As a result, most General Fund programs have been starved. 
    Here are some examples. 
    Virginia’s per pupil, elementary-secondary education expenditures are the 15th lowest in the nation and our teacher salaries are the 13th lowest.  Virginia’s meager state-funded preschool program is still in its infancy.  
    Virginia theoretically set a goal for the state to support 66 percent of the cost of attending college, funding that actually existed when I attended James Madison University from  1989 to 1993.  The state now only covers about 33 percent of the cost.  This has caused tuition at our state-supported institutions to skyrocket so that tuition rates at these colleges have become the fourth highest in the United States of America. 
    There are 10,000 families on Virginia’s waiting list for Medicaid waivers.  These are families with fully disabled juvenile and adult children who are incapable of living independently.  A Medicaid “waiver” allows them to live at home or in group homes funded by the Commonwealth.  Many families, such as military families, move to Virginia only to learn that our state is not supporting these services, services that are basic in most states. 
    State employee salaries continue to lag behind the private sector.  Recent reports have concluded that state employees would need a 26 percent pay increase to reach private sector parity.  State attorneys’ salaries str 90 percent lower than comparable private sector salaries.  Until this year, the Virginia State Police had not had any new trooper positions authorized in over a decade.  
    Environmental enforcement in Virginia is severely limited by inadequate staffing.  Former Governor George Allen cut employees by 20 percent during his term and the Department of Environmental Quality has never recovered.  We struggled to find fundsthis year to pay for actual staff at the newly-created Widewater State Park in the 36th District.  The state has been sitting on the 1,000 acres for 30 years but has not had the money to open the park.    
    Transportation is funded entirely separately by completely different streams of taxes mainly related to transportation such as gas taxes, annual fees and sales taxes on vehicles.  We were only able to restart maintaining our roads and investing in new transportation projects after we increased taxes in the 2013 General Assembly session. 
    At the end of the day, the new funds are good news, but there are dozens of state-funded programs which are desperate for fresh funding. Please continue to provide your feedback as to how we should prioritize spending if we are fortunate enough for revenue to continuing increasing.  You can reach me at scott@scottsurovell.org.  
    It is an honor to serve as your state senator. 

  • Weekly Column: Historic Budget Supports Health Care, Teachers, Police and More

    Weekly Column: Historic Budget Supports Health Care, Teachers, Police and More

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of June 3, 2018.
    Historic Budget Supports Health Care, Teachers, Police and More

                    Last week, the Virginia legislature, with my support, took several major steps forward. First, we agreed to expand Medicaid, health insurance for disabled and low-income Americans, so that now, over 36,000 people in the 36th Senate District receive their health care from Medicaid.  This includes over 24,000 children, children whose parents now have no health care.  Starting January 1, 2019, that will change.                  
                    Medicaid expansion will provide health care to between 300,000 and 400,000 Virginians and create 30,000 new jobs, many of which will be right here in eastern Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties.  It will also save taxpayers $180,000,000 every two years by shifting charity care at state teaching hospitals and prison health care to Medicaid.  All of us pay for uninsured people who must resort to costly hospital emergency rooms for their care.  Providing Medicaid coverage can help people avoid hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care and will help limit insurance premium increases.

                    Virginia will pay 10 percent of the cost of this program by a new tax on hospitals.  This coupled with revenue from federal tax legislation resulted in $900 million available to appropriate in our budget and we made significant investments. 
                   Second, we helped education.  We approved an additional $105 million for Fairfax County ($575 per student), $94 million ($1,057 per student) for Prince William County and $18 million for Stafford County ($613 per student) over the next two years.  The new budget also funds a three percent teacher salary increase and raises funds for state-supported preschool by $9 million.  The budget also increases financial aid to higher education by over $22 million. 
                   Third, the budget gives a much-needed two percent salary increase to state employees and a five percent pay increase to state troopers and deputy court clerks and an additional merit-based salary increase to long-time state employees.  We funded 1,700 Medicaid “waiver” slots or mechanisms to provide services to intellectually or developmentally disabled adults and invested over $15 million new dollars in our mental health system.  Fourth, we restored $180 million to our “Rainy Day” Fund. This will maintain the state’s financial integrity, which was recently questioned by our bond agencies. 
                   After nine years, we ended the scourge of vacant judgeships by funding all judicial vacancies effective July 1, 2019, including three in Fairfax County and one in Prince William County.  We also funded the shortfall in court-appointed attorney fee money and provided funds to start new Drug Courts and Mental Health dockets – allowing people to receive treatment in lieu of harsh punishment.  
                   I succeeded in having six of my budget amendments funded including the four judgeships in the 36th District.  The newly-opened Widewater State Park in Stafford County will finally have staff, six new state park employees.  Virginia will provide nearly $400,000 for much needed technology upgrades at historic Gunston Hall on Mason’s Neck.  Making Neabsco Creek navigable is now more likely because of my efforts with Delegate Luke Torian to put Neabsco Creek first in line for funds from a brand-new state dredging fund.  This will save 1,000 boat slips, 50 jobs and three marinas which were threatened with closure because the Coast Guard unexpectedly designated Neabsco Creek as unnavigable.  
                    This budget was a long time coming.  We first debated Medicaid expansion in the 2013 session and since that time, we have effectively relinquished nearly $10 billion in federal funds which could have helped to stabilize our economy and more importantly, saved some lives.  Fortunately, we have now put politics aside and passed a budget which will change lives.  
                  This was one of the most rewarding weeks of my public service since I was elected nearly nine years ago.  This protracted budget battle resulted in major investments in people and changed lives for hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  I am proud I could help forward these advancements. 
                   Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any questions.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator.