Public weighs in on governor’s budget proposal

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, January 2, 2020

About 150 people turned out for a public hearing Thursday on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed $135 billion biennial budget, with the main concerns being gun rights, education and social services.

Residents from across the Hampton Roads and Peninsula regions packed the hearing before members of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in North Suffolk. State Sen. Louise Lucas — who represents part of Suffolk in the 18th District — as well as Delegates Barry Knight, Roslyn Tyler and Cliff Hayes, represented both committees at the public hearing.

Suffolk residents who have been pushing City Council for a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution were among those speaking out.

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Gary Crossfield, owner of CE Tactical in Suffolk, said his business of three employees contributed just under $100,000 in sales tax and other fees on the sale of guns he said would be banned should SB 16 be adopted. With the loss of taxes and fees from gun sales across the state, he asked where the new money would come from to enforce new gun laws.

“So, if you take that, and you times that by all the other dealers across the state, that leaves a state income loss of billions of dollars,” Crossfield said.

Another resident, Malcom Massey, said legislators are trying to push through gun control measures without understanding the ramifications.

“Are you willing and prepared to use Virginia’s tax and budget dollars to force its citizens to comply with any new regulations regarding firearms?” Massey asked. “And do you believe that Virginia regulations can ever override the rights of Virginia citizens on this or on any other issue?”

John Collick Jr. of Suffolk questioned the midday time of the meeting, and said that there would have been a larger crowd of Second Amendment supporters had it been held in the evening.

“We simply demand, not ask, that you uphold your oath of office and protect our rights, not abridge them,” said Collick, who is running for Congress this year in the 3rd District. “Now one reason we have the Second Amendment is for personal protection. But more importantly, it protects the citizenry from tyranny.”

Though the budget calls for a nearly 10-percent increase in K-12 education spending — $1.2 billion — educators at the public hearing said it did not go far enough.

Dr. James Fedderman, vice president of the Virginia Education Association, said it wants the state budget to meet the Standards of Quality, which he said requires an additional $2 billion dollars, but Northam has proposed $392 million.

“The governor’s office has been touting his historic investment in schools,” said Fedderman. “They do not mention that nearly two-thirds of the money proposed is just adjusting for more students and inflation. They also don’t mention that if you give teachers a 3-percent raise over two years, and inflation of 4 percent during that time, you have decreased teacher pay.”

Suffolk Circuit Court Clerk Randy Carter, representing the Virginia Court Clerks Association, addressed the public hearing, calling for salary equity for deputy circuit court clerks versus their district court peers, funding for staffing minimums in 14 circuit court clerk offices across Virginia — Carter said they each have two or fewer staff members — the Technology Trust Fund restoration and career development funding.

While Northam’s budget would fully fund the requests for salary equity and staffing minimums, Carter said it does not include any money for career development funding and only partially funds the Technology Trust Fund restoration with $500,000 of the nearly $2 million needed.

“Really, that pay equity thing is just awful, and we need to do something about it,” Carter said. “That’s just unconscionable.”