Money Issues Still Hang Over State

Lawmakers Address Post-Session Breakfast

Posted: April 16, 2013

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, speaks at the annual post-legislative breakfast at VMRC on Monday. Next to Obenshain are (left to right) Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, addresses attendees of the annual post-legislative breakfast at VMRC on Monday morning. Seated by Landes are (left to right) Sen. Emmett Hanger, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, who also spoke at the event.
People attend a Post-Legislative Breakfast hosted by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Chamber of Commerce at VMRC Monday morning. Speakers were Sen. Emmett Hanger, Sen. Mark Obenshain, Del. Steve Landes and Del. Tony Wilt.
HARRISONBURG — Valley lawmakers are still drying off from the murky waters they entered for this year’s General Assembly session.

Four legislators attended the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Chamber of Commerce’s annual post-legislative breakfast Monday at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community. The same group of Republicans — Dels. Tony Wilt and Steve Landes and Sens. Mark Obenshain and Emmett Hanger — spoke at a pre-session breakfast in December.

The General Assembly finished its regular session Feb. 23 and had a one-day gathering April 3 to consider amendments and vetoes from Gov. Bob McDonnell.

At the pre-session event, legislators cautioned that with the then-looming federal sequestration, they were unsure how to plan for major funding cuts. Four months later, questions remain.

The “common denominator” among the state’s issues is money, said Wilt, R-Broadway. That was apparent as the lawmakers discussed Monday with about 50 chamber members transportation, Medicaid reform and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

None of the Valley legislators voted for the state’s new transportation package, which uses a series of tax increases to raise $880 million a year for roads within five years. The proposal was “way too confusing,” said Hanger, R-Mount Solon.

“I still can’t figure out what we did do,” he said.

Hanger, who advocates tax reform, added that the General Assembly is “fooling” itself if it thinks its work is finished on transportation.

Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said the state would be “surging” in money for roads if it followed its own law of dedicating 65 percent of the unallocated budget surplus to roads each year.

Instead, it allocates “every single penny” of the surplus, he said.

“I’m sure that made it onto some brochures around the state,” Obenshain said of the 65 percent law, “but it hasn’t raised any money for transportation.”

On Medicaid reform, Hanger and Landes, R-Weyers Cave, are members of a commission that will oversee changes in Virginia. One consideration is expanding it to add 400,000 Virginians not now covered.

“Where’s the money going to come from — from the federal government?” Landes asked.

Hanger added, “We’re already on the cheap in what we pay providers.”

For bay cleanup, more optimism was expressed. Hanger, who was chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission last year, noted that the General Assembly has designated more than $200 million in bonds to cover its share of wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

“We are making significant strides in agricultural best management practices,” he said.

But localities must be careful not to undo its progress by granting too many “micro farms,” Wilt said.

“I know somebody’s five chickens don’t seem like that’s going to be much of a problem, but once you start adding them up [it can be],” he said. “Our localities need to keep their eyes open as we start moving in that direction.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com



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