January 12, 2011
Lawmakers kicked off the first legislative session of 2011 Wednesday morning on the heels of Governor Bob McDonnell's State of the Commonwealth address. Their top priority? The budget.
Although the financial state of the Commonwealth is trending in the right direction, lawmakers like Creigh Deeds are moving forward with cautious optimism.
"We're still going to have a short fall. That means we're going to have to be very careful about the priorities we fund and closely examine those that we don't fund," said the State Senator from Charlottesville.
There is talk that the Governor's transportation proposal is too bold. Namely, Albemarle County Delegate Rob Bell and others say taking on $3 billion in debt for new projects is risky.
"The concern would be that we are at our debt limit. To go past that would require us to increase the debt limit past five percent of the general fund. That causes me some real concern, but I want to give [Gov. McDonnell] a chance to explain what he's trying to do before I make a final decision," said Del. Bell.
Another funding shortfall, the Virginia Retirement System, is $17 billion in the hole. The Governor's proposal, which has employees paying more to fund the system, is not popular with many state workers.
"His VRS proposal is essentially an unfunded mandate on every school division in the state. In Albemarle County alone it's going to cost over a million dollars," said Sen. Deeds.
Transportation and education will continue to top the budget debate during the 46-day legislative session, and lawmakers look forward to hearing Gov. McDonnell's plan to steer the Commonwealth in the right direction.
The Newsplex will bring you live coverage from Richmond of the State of the Commonwealth address during Charlottesville Tonight at 7pm on CBS19 and ABC16. Then, we'll recap the speech on the WAHU FOX27 News at 10pm and again on 19 News Nightcast at 11pm.