State budget gap closed

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The General Assembly returned to Richmond Monday for a special session to deal with a variety of issues, ranging from budget and transportation to health care and judgeships.

The assembly passed House Bill 5010, introduced by Suffolk’s Delegate S. Chris Jones, which closes the $2.4 billion shortfall in the budget over the next two years.

After the budget passed this summer, Jones said, the state “realized we had a worsening revenue situation.”

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Monday’s action — which included cutting $45 million each year from higher education and $30 million each year from local governments — should be the last round of cuts needed to close that gap, Jones said.

“It was a bipartisan, collaborative effort,” he said.

The assembly also chose not to delay nearly $50 million destined for a special transportation fund, even though it means extra cuts to the general fund, Jones said.

“We unwound that delay, and we’re going to transfer those dollars,” he said.

Legislators took no action on a wholesale gas tax increase that will take effect in January. The issue was decided last year as part of a transportation funding bill that outlined the 1.6-percent increase if Congress did not pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow the state to collect sales and use taxes from online retailers.

“That was debated and decided last year,” Jones said. “It was very clear that’s what would happen if that didn’t occur.”

Last year’s transportation bill also hiked the statewide sales tax as well as instituted an additional sales tax in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia localities, as well as provided other funding streams like the tax on wholesale fuel. The historic legislation is expected to bring in more than $200 million in funding for Hampton Roads alone.

Health care also came up for debate in Monday’s session.

In an email update to supporters and the media, Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., whose district includes a sliver of North Suffolk, wrote that the General Assembly also approved legislation that will allow insurance companies to continue offering health care policies that are not compliant with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to the current holders of those policies.

Last fall, millions of Americans learned their insurance plans would be canceled, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave states the option of allowing insurance companies to continue offering non-compliant policies to current policyholders for a limited period of time.

“I felt compelled to try to do something to address this,” wrote Norment, a Republican and Senate Majority Leader. “The Virginia General Assembly cannot overturn the ACA. But we can do everything possible to try to mitigate its negative effects on the people of Virginia.”

Several Circuit Court and General District Court judgeships also were decided, but none of them belong to Suffolk.