Budget worries legislators

Published 10:22 pm Thursday, January 5, 2017

By Stephen Cowles

Special to the News-Herald

Everything for this year’s General Assembly session depends on the budget. On that, all the legislators who participated in a legislative forum Thursday in Smithfield could agree.

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Delegate Roslyn Tyler (D-75), first to speak, said this year is a short session of 45 days and the atmosphere is “one of compromise — we’ve got to get the budget done; it’s priority.” She added that this is also an election year for delegates.

“There are quite a number of bills to be introduced,” Tyler said. These include aiming to eliminate the suspension of a person’s license when they can’t pay court costs. Funding for education and mental health are also concerns for her. She’ll also be there to address public safety and education for rural areas.

Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) reiterated that the budget will be the factor when it comes to bills. One bill that he’s especially interested in concerns establishing a veterans’ mental health docket in the circuit courts, though he said the Supreme Court might be taking care of that issue.

He is also concerned with the protection and management of the Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden population, calling the fish “critical to the well being of the bay.”

He urged students who were present at the breakfast to contact their legislators.

“Call your senators, delegates, councilmen or supervisors and ask questions,” Cosgrove said.

Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18) said, “We do want a balanced budget,” and brought up her continued work to establish a casino in Portsmouth. Mental health and Medicaid waivers for persons with intellectual disabilities are also a concern, she said.

Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. (R-3), who is the Senate Majority Leader, said his objective for this session is just to survive.

“We balance the budget by cutting,” he said. “It’s a painful process.”

Del. Rick Morris (R-64) was called away at the last minute owing to a trial that had to be continued, according to his legislative aide, Tim Mitchell.

“He’s looking forward to a successful session,” he said, adding that Morris will concentrate on core values, small farmers, small businesses and government transparency.