‘Some hiccups’

Published 11:35 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

Briefing: Delegate Chris Jones briefed members of the Suffolk and Portsmouth divisions of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday. Among the things discussed were the state and city budgets, as well as a recent veto of redistricting legislation by the governor.

Delegate describes contentious session

With the Virginia legislature divided along political lines and some especially tough problems to solve, there were bound to be some kinks in the legislative process this year.

The biggest of those kinks, according to Delegate Chris Jones, who represents Suffolk in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, came at the end of the session, when Gov. Bob McDonnell vetoed the Democratically-controlled Senate’s proposed redistricting plan.

The House of Delegates’ plan passed on a bipartisan 88-9 vote, he said Thursday during a debriefing session with members of the Suffolk and Portsmouth divisions of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

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Not so for the Senate plan, however, which was unable to garner a single Republican vote and prompted McDonnell’s veto, he said. If the legislature and the governor cannot work out their differences, one participant in the morning roundtable pointed out, the final plan could be one that is handed down by the state’s court system.

“I don’t think any of the three parties wants a judicial remedy,” Jones told the group of about 30 business leaders, adding that he expects legislators to continue trying to work out a redistricting plan that is acceptable to all involved in the process.

“We expected to have some hiccups,” he added.

With state revenues off again this year, Virginia’s budget once again took center stage during the General Assembly session, and Jones was in the middle of an effort by the governor and other Republicans to overhaul the Virginia Retirement System, which funds retirement plans for state employees.

Although budget-easing changes to the system were ultimately approved, he said, partisanship finally defeated one of the main changes Jones had hoped to advance — a requirement that employees contribute a defined amount to their own retirement, as opposed to taxpayers footing the entire bill.

“It’s not our obligation to have a Cadillac benefit when, in fact, you don’t see that anymore (in the private sector),” he said, promising to bring the proposal back to the table again next year.

By that time, Jones and others hope the economy has picked up some steam and the fiscal handicap the state legislature has labored under for the past three years or so will be healed.

“Virginia is in a great position to pick up when the economy comes back,” he said. “It’s all about the economy, the economy, the economy.”