Without doubt, the New Year and
the economic challenges that encompass the entire U.S. economy have
affected Virginia ’s state budget. Analyzing the depth of that
challenge and re-configuring state spending accordingly will be and
should be the main focus of the Virginia General Assembly session, which
opens on Wednesday, January 14 in Richmond .
Gov. Kaine has estimated a $2.9 billion shortfall in the $77 billion
state budget, though it is noteworthy that staff and leading members of
both houses of the legislature say (for the second year) that those
numbers are optimistic. I look forward to working with the Governor and
colleagues to craft responsible amendments to the budget.
Whatever the final numbers turn out to be, they will require a realistic
assessment of what is possible, and will entail some painful cuts.
Analyzing the budget, my first conviction is that we, like families and
businesses across Virginia , are going to have to live within our means.
This means first and foremost that raising taxes during a recession is
not an option. It also means pointedly re-asserting, hewing to, and
protecting to the greatest extent possible, our priorities. It will
require eliminating or reducing programs which are not central to our
core responsibilities and priorities, or that have failed to meet the
test of productive value for Virginians.
As I examine the programs which we fund in Virginia , the categories
that rise to the top are: (1) public education, (2) public safety, (3)
the agreed-upon safety net of services for the disadvantaged, and (4)
transportation. These are our central responsibilities as elected
representatives of the people of Virginia . It is in these core areas
that I will fight to minimize the fallout from the economic downturn.
Parenthetically, I have voted three times in the last decade against
state budget proposals. In doing so, I also stated that the Commonwealth
was embarking on spending that would not be sustainable in future
economic downturns that history tells us are sure to come. Further,
as recent data demonstrate, the state's budget has grown by 80 per cent
over the past decade, a figure that, accounting for inflation and
population growth, etc., averages right at 3 per cent per year. However,
in several years the growth in state spending--and obligations through
indebtedness--have far exceeded the average taxpayer's growth in
Preserving funding for development of the state park in Powhatan County
will of course remain among my highest legislative and budgetary
Amid these somber notes, it bears observing that Virginia maintains
certain strengths. We have had a relatively lower number of foreclosures
than most of our sister states, and due in significant part to federal
contracts and defense installations in the Commonwealth our job and
income data are stronger than much of the rest of the country.
Moreover, the Old Dominion has been recognized both in publications and
by our continued AAA bond rating (a ranking held by only a handful of
States) as among the best-managed fiscally.
It also bears remarking in these difficult days that Virginia ’s state
employees will be tasked with the practical challenge of working through
the difficulties of a reduced state budget. They will be required to
take up additional work of unfilled positions and layoffs. In my
experience, many state employees have been diligent and purposeful in
undertaking the duties of their office. I am grateful for the care and
professional response they have given in addressing concerns of
constituents who have sought assistance through my office.
As we look to the New Year, one of the new tasks I will undertake is
chairing a subcommittee reviewing our generation-long moratorium on
uranium mining in Virginia . Given the heightened challenge of energy
costs and needs in Virginia and the United States, and the substantial
deposit of uranium which exists in Pittsylvania County a subcommittee of
Virginia’s Coal and Energy Commission has been appointed.
We will undertake a comprehensive review of the environmental,
scientific and economic costs and opportunities of uranium mining,
assisted by professionals at Virginia Tech and the National Academy of
Science. The study is expected to take approximately 18 months.
Lee Ware represents the 65th District, comprised of Powhatan County and
western Chesterfield, in the Virginia House of Delegates. During
Session, which begins January 14, he can be contacted at 698-1065 and
via email at email@example.com
One of the privileges of serving in the state legislature is the
opportunity to learn more about the range of businesses that operate in
Virginia. The largest business in Virginia, in terms of its
product sales is agriculture. A recently-released study by
the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center reports that the
annual value of the Commonwealth’s farmers’ labors is $79 billion
Having begun at Jamestown, it is Virginia’s oldest business as well.
Annually, far the largest event of the legislative season is the
Virginia Agribusiness Dinner held at the Arthur Ashe Center in
Richmond. Nearly 1,000 people attend including farmers,
lumbermen and a host of people who serve their needs. The
dinner highlights the sheer range of farm products from the traditional:
apples, dairy products, beef cattle, peanuts and barbeque sauce, to
newer: unusual flowers and vegetables, exotic cheeses and an array of
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine headlined the program (held the night after his
State of the Commonwealth Address) and fittingly noted that farmers work
each year in the face of adversity: fluctuating prices for both supplies
and products, the unpredictability of the weather, and pests.
In the current recession, we can learn much those whose livelihood is
daily earned in the face of these and more challenges.
The elemental work of farming benefits Virginians in these obvious ways,
and in some not so obvious.
By far the largest amount of land which is currently held in
conservation easements is land devoted to farming and lumbering.
These easements permanently limit the land from development.
Tens of thousands of acres across Virginia, have been placed in these
Moreover, farmers across Virginia expend countless hours and dollars in
limiting run-off from their land into the state’s streams and
waterways. They do this in conjunction with regional Soil
and Water Districts under a program titled Best Management
Practices. In 2008, the General Assembly invested $20
million to assist in this effort, and it is my hope that we will
maintain that effort this year.
The annual legislative session got underway last week, Wednesday,
January 14. I have been hearing from many people about matters we
will consider this year.
Lee Ware represents the 65th District, comprised of Powhatan County
and western Chesterfield, in the Virginia House of Delegates. During
Session, which begins January 14, he can be contacted at 698-1065 and
via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
February 4, 2009
Powhatan certainly was well
represented in the corridors of the Capitol this week, and it was good
to have so many homefolks visit during an exceptionally busy time.
Some twenty-eight participants in Powhatan Leadership Institute spent
much of Tuesday attending meetings in both the General Assembly Building
and the Capitol.
We began our time together with a private conference at which both
Senator John Watkins and I were able to review major bills wending their
way through committees. Institute members also sat in on committee
meetings, toured the Capitol, and then were recognized from the gallery
when Session convened. Joe Lowenthal made arrangements for the
activities, and I was glad both to see many old friends and, not least,
to meet quite a few newcomers to Powhatan who took advantage of this
Institute event to gain an introduction to the state government of the
Donna Moyer and about twenty of her 4-H Club youths were able to sit in
for part of the Institute's group meeting. And, Johns and Dorothy
Bailey and Anne Lewis came by to make their annual presentation on the
importance of agriculture in both the county and the whole state.
Donnie Hatcher and Dickie Baltimore dropped by the office on other
matters. Earlier, I was glad to see Billy Kornegay and George Lee,
who are keenly interested in veterans’ issues. All in all, then,
it was a good week in Richmond for Powhatan.
Numerous county citizens contacted me via email or 'phone about their
concerns for sufficient funding for public education. Fortunately,
my long years of experience as a teacher gives me confidence that the
legislature, and certainly the House of Delegates of which I am a
member, will labor to ensure adequate monies for K-12 schools, despite
the severe economic downtown not only in Virginia but around the world.
It still is unclear how great the budget shortfall will be. Estimates
range from a "low" of $2.9 billion to as much as nearly $4
billion. Apparently a significant portion will be covered by the
some $1.3 billion projected for Virginia in the "economic
stimulus" bill being debated in Congress. It is likely to be
aimed at construction rather than operating costs; in addition, large
portions may be targeted at impoverished areas. This week, several
teachers from Powhatan Schools are scheduled to meet with me, so I
expect to have latest budget figures to hand for their review. The
bottomline is that I am confident that the legislature will protect our
schools from too-severe cuts in the wake of an economic decline that may
prove to be one of the landmark experiences of the next generation.
One of my bills of interest to Powhatan eked through a subcommittee of
the House Transportation committee this week. House Bill 1648
would require counties to give due consideration to scenic and historic
qualities along Virginia's Byways when planning for future commercial or
residential development. Roughly 3,200 miles of Virginia's 58,000
miles of state roads are designed as "Byways." In
current law a byway is merely a voluntary designation that alerts
travelers--and, not least, tourists--to the prospect of a two-lane
roadway winding through scenic or historic countryside. Our own
Huguenot Trail (Route 711) is of course one of Virginia's Byways.
In some areas of the state squabbles among neighbors have been left
unresolved because the Code does not give localities sufficient
incentive to preserve the scenic or historic qualities by which a byway
was designated in the first place. My bill would nudge localities
toward better planning in this regard--and I must be quick to point out
that Powhatan is in the forefront in striving to protect the qualities
of our own byway.
Of course some commercial and residential developers worry that HB1648
could become a hurdle to their proposals, though that is not my direct
intent. Consequently, the bill was advanced by the razor-thin margin of
3-2. Its fate in full committee is difficult to predict.
I am thankful to District 1 Supervisor Joe Walton for responding
immediately to my request for assistance in advocating for the bill.
Though his duties in the county prevented him from attending the
subcommittee hearing, Joe prepared a letter that admirably helped me
make the case that state legislators and county officials can cooperate
in behalf both of commercial and residential development while
conserving the singular qualities that make Virginia different from,
say, New Jersey.
As Joe noted, "District 1 in Powhatan is at a literal and
figurative crossroads of rural, exurban, historical, and cultural as
well as modern transportation and economic development concerns. The
Huguenot Trail corridor with its intersection at Route 288 in Powhatan
continues to be a designated Virginia Byway and the residents have a
deep-seated interest in preserving that designation AND accommodating
appropriate future development in a compatible manner--the two concepts
CAN coexist." I will be reiterating this conviction when the
full Transportation hears my bill this week.
Lee Ware represents the 65th District consisting of all of
Powhatan County and thirteen precincts in western Chesterfield. During
Session his office number is (804) 698-1065. Email address is email@example.com
State Funding for
February 11, 2009
Concern for proper
funding of our public schools rightly occupied a great deal of attention
during deliberations in the House this week--and many local citizens,
including of course parents and teachers, contacted me to emphasize their
support of adequate state funding of K-12 education.
Robin Shortridge of
the faculty of Pocahontas Middle School led a local delegation of teachers
who met with me at the Capitol. The Powhatan teachers were joined by
teachers from Chesterfield’s public schools. And of course I received a
large number of calls, emails, and letters.
surprised many of us by recommending severe reductions in state support
for public schools. In response, the House has been working on an
alternate budget, and the House proposal was to be announced a couple days
after these lines were written.
To all of our
citizens I must remark that I deeply share the concerns about funding for
our public schools and I also share an unshakeable commitment to
maintaining the quality of education we provide to our children.
we may not be able, given the current economic conditions, to 'save' all
of the school budget, certainly we will be able to alleviate the
originally projected reductions. It also bears noting that the cuts
are not permanent. Budget figures lapse with the current budget,
which ends on June 30, 2010. There is not separate
legislation that would permanently diminish the Standards of Quality (SOQ),
as some have worried. (The SOQ create the framework for state
funding for K-12 education.)
It is important to offer the assurance, too, that I and my colleagues in
the House, especially in the majority, are determined to protect K-12
funding against the too-severe cuts proposed by the Governor. As both a
legislator and also a teacher (and as the father of four children who were
graduated from our public schools), I think we will fare much better, when
the final budget decisions are made, than the first figures suggested.
Of course there are some respects in which we legislators have very little
power over the events--for example, the collapse of banks, the
international pressure on energy markets, etc.--that account for the
significant decline in state tax revenues over recent months.
Our best response,
and it is similar to the response being taken by county supervisors and
schools officials, is to tighten the belt. For example, the figures cited
in the Richmond paper the other day suggest that the cutbacks locally are
somewhere between 7 to a bit more than 9 percent. Those are serious
figures, of course, but, the federal economic stimulus will, as only
recently reported, infuse near $2 billion into Virginia's budget,
including $1.6 toward our budget shortfall of roughly $4 billion. And,
importantly, both school systems in the district have more recently
reported that reductions in programs or staff should finally be
considerably less than originally feared. Data released last Friday
showed that the unemployment rate nationally had exceeded 7 percent for
the first time in many years. Economists tell us that the private sector
is a long way from regaining the energy and dynamism that generate
jobs--and taxes. Andof course we legislators can tax only what the private
sector is generating in revenues. Because the private sector is shedding
jobs--hence revenues--by the tens of thousands, we need to be very prudent
for the foreseeable future.
All that said, I am pleased to report that I am working hard, both on
votes and in behind-the-scenes conversations with my colleagues, to
protect K-12 funding against too-severe cuts by the Governor. As we move
into the final three weeks of Session, I remain confident that the House
will be able to advance a budget that reaffirms our commitment to the best
possible public schooling for the rising generation.
represents the 65 th District consisting of all of Powhatan
County and thirteen precincts in western Chesterfield. During Session his
office number is (804) 698-1065. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
AN OVERVIEW OF THE 2009 GENERAL
these lines are written we are within hours of the scheduled adjournment
of a surprisingly busy “Short Session” of General Assembly for 2009.
Not surprisingly, a shortfall in tax revenues now estimated at $3.7
Billion has dominated our deliberations.
From now ‘til we adjourn, modifications to the budget will occupy
almost all of our attention.
a year ago my focus was on what The Financial Times predicted could become “the mother of all
[economic] meltdowns.” Now
we know that too-high rates of taxation and governmental spending, a
too-high rate of consumer spending and too little private savings, have
combined to create what may be an economic downturn of a severity not
experienced since the Great Depression.
It is indisputable that governmental policies, especially at the
federal level, contributed to the “housing bubble” that lured too many
homeowners into borrowing against equity that has evaporated because of
too many exorbitant loans.
in state spending may be difficult. The
federal “stimulus” package approved by Congress last week will direct
$1 Billion in new monies to
’s government. Governor
Kaine has said that this development “means near term [that] we don’t
have to make any more cuts.” This
remark came immediately after reports that the state budget deficit had
increased by another $821 million.
we can breathe a sigh of relief, my concern is that the federal stimulus
is based on more borrowing by government.
We may be saddling our children, and even our children’s
children, with large indebtedness for decades to come.
In sum, we still need to wrestle state spending into a
reasonable—and sustainable—rate of annual growth.
times in the past decade I have voted against entire budgets owing to my
concern about the rate of increase in state spending.
Just before Session we learned that state governmental spending
from 1998 through 2008 had increased by 80 percent.
Even when adjusted for inflation and growth in population, this
rate came to a year-by-year increase of 2.4 percent.
That figure alone was greater than the private sector’s ability
to sustain—and greater than the average individual’s or family’s
annual increase in net income.
truly good news about the budget is that the House will be able to protect
spending for public education from the most severe cuts originally
proposed by the Governor. Probably
no issue generated more contacts from constituents this Session than
protecting state support for K-12 spending, and I was pleased to be able
supervisors were rightly concerned with the Governor’s original budget
proposal because it did not include funding for improvements to Routes 711
and 522. I will be meeting
with officials of the Department of Parks and Recreation, including, I
hope, our own Joe Elton, director, as soon as the final budget is
determined, and I will report on the project’s status in a later column.
Also, county officials and I will be meeting about a park-related
issue in early March.
Issues of Interest
the budget, only two issues rose to prominence this year.
One, the Governor’s proposed total ban on smoking in restaurants,
was amended by the House to allow for some exceptions.
The Senate then excised the House amendments, the resulting
compromise was passed handily by both chambers, and the Governor has
indicated he will sign the legislation.
several reasons, I voted against the Governor’s proposal.
For example, fully 70 percent of the private restaurants and
have responded to their respective clienteles by either adopting
no-smoking policies or effectively separating smoking and non-smoking
portions of their establishments. This
kind of private response, through sound business practices and the free
decisions of well-mannered customers, is far preferable, in my judgment,
to a one-size-fits-all dictate from government.
“more than 90 percent of Virginians live in localities in which the
majority of restaurants are smoke-free,” according to a major study of
the issue. Not surprisingly,
many of the smaller restaurants that accommodate a variety of customers
are located in rural counties, many in the Southside.
Suddenly, then, the proprietors and customers of these businesses
are to be denied the ability—the liberty—to decide the question on
their own, apart from the heavy hand of government.
other widely discussed bill was House Bill 1588, a proposal to mandate
insurance coverage for autism. The
stories we heard from parents of autistic children were at once inspiring
and distressing. However, the
bill would have affected only about 26 percent of insurance policies.
For example, large corporations and also state government would
have been excluded. As a
result, we were advised by insurers and small-business owners that the
mandate would force them to increase rates to levels that would have
forced many businesses to quit providing coverage altogether.
HB 1588 and a similar bill in the Senate were, therefore, not
advanced in respective committees.
Bills Introduced by Delegate Lee Ware
my ten major (10) bills, eight were passed unanimously by both the House
and Senate and are expected to be signed into law by the Governor.
Of the other two, one (House Bill 1648) was passed by the House but
defeated in the Senate, and one bill (HB 1976) was Left in the Finance
committee of the House. My
bills were as follows:
HB 1648, to require state agencies and local governments to
give “due consideration” to Virginia Byways in planning for
development was passed by the House, 73-25.
It was defeated in the Senate committee on Transportation, 9-3.
I was pleased that Senator John Watkins of the Senate committee
voted for the measure.
HB 1649, will exclude telegraph, telephone, or cable
companies from certain restrictions in serving subdivisions;
HB 1970 will exclude propane and similar non-utility gas
supplies from the definition of “public utility” in some instances but
also to enhance safety oversight on propane.
(Lengthy negotiations between natural gas and propane providers
greatly assisted me in this complicated legislation.)
HB 1971, and also HB 1972, will combine to improve terms of
credit life insurance for consumers.
HB 1973 will target grants to localities under the Litter
Prevention and Recycling Grants program.
HB 1974 authorizes the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to
approve a crash prevention course for drivers 55 years of age and older,
through the Internet. (Local
AARP officials were instrumental in conception and advancement of this
HB 1975 authorizes counties to grant incentives to encourage
the use of environmentally-friendly “green roofs.”
HB 1976, to allow a tax credit for taxpayers for purchase of
school supplies, was, as noted, left in the Finance committee.
HB 1977, to mandate insurance coverage for prosthetic
devices, was rolled into a similar Senate bill.
Resolutions were passed unanimously commending retired
former Powhatan High School Principal Rick Cole, retired former Powhatan
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Budner, and also Laura
, Moseley, who was selected for the nationally prestigious Milken Award.
A separate Resolution commends James River Advisory Council for its
admirable endeavors in protecting
General Assembly Reconvenes April 8
Assembly will reconvene on April 8 for the “Veto Session,” to consider
actions that will have been taken by the Governor on bills that passed
both chambers of the legislature. In
the meantime, Session will have concluded, so I will be able to report on
the final status of numerous other bills of high interest to 65th
Thanks to Constituents
usual, hundreds of constituents sent me emails, regular mail, called by
‘phone, or visited, helping me maintain the proper connection with the
fundamental purpose of the General Assembly, which is to represent the
people’s interests and conduct the people’s business.
Each constituent’s message is reviewed and taken into account as
my votes are cast, and I do my best to make sure that everyone receives at
least an acknowledgement, and more often than not a brief original reply,
to their question, concern, or suggestion.
also kept in touch with the locally elected officials of both Powhatan and
supervisors met with Members of the House and Senate who represent some
. Powhatan supervisors and
staff keep me well informed of their interests and concerns.
Schools officials also provided me helpful information.
And of course I kept in touch, too, with our Senator John Watkins.
adjournment I look forward to seeing constituents to review the final
outcome of the Session’s actions on bills that were pending in the final
days. And, of course, because
2009 is an election year, I hope to see you along the way.
Lee Ware and Kiernan Ziletti, who served as a Page during the 2009
Session. Kiernan is the son of
David and Mimi Ziletti of Powhatan and Frank and Amy Moore of