Jones does heavy lifting

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, January 2, 2014

Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones (R-76) will be lifting heavy weight in Richmond this year, starting with his arrival there today, several days ahead of next week’s official commencement of the session.

As new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jones will carry the budget bills in the House of Delegates. Although his workload will appear lighter on paper, because he’s carrying fewer bills, the budget requires more attention than most.

“That’s a little different for me,” he said. “It kind of puts it in perspective what the chairmanship is going to mean as far as the time commitment. I’m carrying fewer bills, because I’m carrying the budget bills. The ones I’m carrying have a lot more going on.”

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Outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget totals $95.9 billion for the next two years, which includes a general fund of $37.7 billion. It includes additional money in the rainy day fund, about $183.1 million in additional higher education funding, $582.6 million in increased funding for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and many other priorities.

McDonnell, in a press release, said the budget continues his focus on promoting private-sector job growth and growing the state’s economy.

“The major spending recommendations focus on the core public services which lead to prosperity,” he said. “They also decrease our reliance on budgetary gimmicks that helped in the past but run counter to structural balance and sound financial judgment. You will also find a fair amount of embedded caution, given the global economic and national political uncertainty.”

Other features of the budget include $38.3 million in new funding for mental health system reforms, an unappropriated balance of nearly $51 million and a possible 3-percent bonus for state employees before next Christmas, contingent upon generating savings equal to twice the cost of the bonus and satisfactory employee performance.

Other bills Jones plans to introduce include two dealing with the Port of Virginia in regards to tax credits and the grant fund. He also will introduce a bill that closes a loophole that allows retired judges to work in another Virginia Retirement System position and thereby enhance their retirement payments.

“It was never intended to allow an individual to do that,” Jones said. “I’ve got a bill to kind of correct that.

“I’m very excited about the session and looking forward to the new challenge,” he continued. “It is not lost on me the responsibility that comes with the position. I’m looking forward to getting to Richmond and rolling my sleeves up.”