Weekly Column: Special Session Begins Work on State Budget
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of April 2, 2014.
Special Session Begins Work on State Budget
Last week, we returned to Richmond for the first day of our special session to finalize Virginia’s two-year, $90 billion budget.
Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed amendments to the budget originally introduced. The major change was for Virginia to expand its Medicaid program to all adults earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level with the cost reimbursed by the federal government for the next three years and phased down to 90 percent of the cost by the year 2020 pursuant to the Federal Affordable Care Act.
Shifting this cost to the federal government frees up at least $225 million of Virginia taxpayer money to fund other programs this budget cycle. Governor McAuliffe proposes to use those savings to provide $100 million for a “rainy day fund” to cover potential future Medicaid expenditures as requested by Republican Senators. He also budgets $76 million to shore up the Virginia Retirement System because the General Assembly borrowed money to balance the budget back in 2010-2011.
Most importantly, he proposes a two percent salary increase for all K-12 public school teachers and support personnel, state employees, college and university faculty, constitutional officer personnel (sheriffs and clerks) and state-supported local employees. With Fairfax County’s teacher salaries lagging behind Arlington, Alexandria, Washington, D.C. and Maryland by thousands of dollars, this would be a sorely-needed boost and an especially effective way to retain and attract good teachers.
He also proposed new funding for pre-kindergarten education, covering costs shifted to local governments; mental health programs and land conservation. Overall, Fairfax County would receive at least an additional $36 million over two years instead of $28 million.
The Republican majority in the House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee killed Governor McAuliffe’s proposals about three hours after they received them and voted to send their original budget to the full House. In response, the Senate adjourned on Monday night for three weeks so they could give it more careful consideration.
On Tuesday night, we debated the budget again. Governor McAuliffe’s budget was reintroduced on the House floor and rejected on a party-line vote with one Republican voting for it and two Democrats voting against it. We passed the House’s budget on a party-line vote and adjourned for the time being and its now on to the Senate.
We did get one thing done. We passed legislation wrapping up last year’s budget and passing along $440 million of excess revenue to the next budget cycle. I voted “no” because it also funded a new $400 million Capitol office building for the General Assembly. Our current building is an asbestos-laden, energy inefficient, allergy-inducing fire hazard, but I could not tolerate the irony of spending $400 million on ourselves at the same time we are refusing to extend healthcare to Virginia’s 400,000 neediest citizens at minimal cost to taxpayers.
The Senate will return on April 7 to hold hearings on the budget. The House is not scheduled to return at this time.
Last week, I wrote about many of the consequences of inaction. More analysis provides more consequences. As of today, Virginia taxpayers have lost over $450 million due to the legislature’s gridlock. One study estimates that failure to act will lead to 200 to 600 preventable deaths per year. Another report estimates $28 million in savings to local governments via medical services provided by their community services boards such as Fairfax County’s.
Some opponents argue that the federal government could prohibit Virginia from withdrawing after changing reimbursements. After Governor McAuliffe produced a letter from the federal government stating that Virginia could withdraw at any time, opponents moved the goalposts, contending that that was not good enough and demanded a new federal law.
The state now has spending authority through June 30, 2014. It is unclear what will happen if a budget is not approved. The state would clearly not close its jails, stop processing criminal cases or shut down university hospitals, but there would be consequences.
I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a bipartisan solution to our stalemate, but that path is not clear today.
As always, if you have any ideas, drop me a note at email@example.com. It is an honor to serve you in the state legislature.
Medicaid: The Actual Consequences of Obstruction
There's been a lot of talk about Richmond about alleged Medicaid fraud, the Federal deficit, and many other excuses for inaction on Virginia's stingiest-in-the-United States Medicaid system that have been around for about the last 20 years.
Back in January, The Health Affairs Blog posted an interesting analysis of the real consequences of failing to expand Medicaid on a state-by-state basis.
The blog uses the Kaiser Family Foundation's Status of State Action on the Medicaid Expansion Decision updated on November 22, 2013 as compared with the 2013 U.S. Census Estimates.
Here are their conclusions for the Commonwealth of Virginia for a twelve-month period:
- 26,656 - Estimated Number of Individuals Suffering Depression (Lack of Antidepressants)
- 15,819 - Estimated Number of Individuals Not Utilizing Diabetes Medications
- 9,166 - Estimated Number of Women Foregoing Cancer Screening (Mammograms)
- 17,788 - Estimated Number of Women Foregoing Cancer Screening (Pap Smears)
- 8,165 - Estimated Number of People with Catastrophic Medical Expenses
- 266 to 987 - Estimated Number of Deaths
You can see the full chart below.
Weekly Column: Closing the Healthcare Coverage Gap Saves Virginia Taxpayers
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of March 25, 2014.
Closing the Healthcare Coverage Gap Saves Virginia Taxpayers
As the General Assembly attempts to complete work in Richmond on the $90 billion state budget, the looming obstacle to an agreement is how to close the health insurance gap or cover uninsured Virginians.
There are an estimated one million uninsured adults in Virginia today or about one in every eight Virginians. The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) is designed to provide coverage in three ways: (1) require large employers to provide health insurance; (2) create a healthcare exchange to give uninsured adults bargaining power to purchase insurance in a pool at competitive rates, with subsidies for lower-income adults; and (3) expand Medicaid eligibility for all adults whose incomes are 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or lower. Under this approach, people would be eligible if their income ranges from around $16,000 for an individual to $32,000 for a family of four.
Medicaid is a proven, federal-state health insurance program for low-income and disabled people. Although Virginia has the eighth highest per capita income in the United States, we currently have the lowest eligibility allowed by law. The only people covered today are low-income children, blind and disabled adults, pregnant mothers and extremely poor elderly in full-time nursing care who have “spent down” all their assets. The federal government pays around half the costs. Under the ACA, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion in the first four years, declining to 90% of the cost after ten years.
Of all House of Delegate districts in Fairfax County, the 44th District is tied for the largest Medicaid population. It is second in Northern Virginia of all delegate districts. Sixteen percent of 44th district residents are currently covered by Medicaid, including over 9,000 children or one in three children.
Last year, the U. S. Supreme Court held that the ACA is constitutional, but also held that the federal government cannot force states to expand their Medicaid programs. Thus, Medicaid remains optional for states.
In my view, Virginia’s failure to expand Medicaid to the eligible uninsured is political malpractice. Here’s why.
Virginia taxpayers are losing $5 million every day and $2 billion every year that we do not expand our program. This has cost the state $400 million as of Sunday and counting.
Expansion would provide insurance to at least 5,000 adults, create 400 jobs, and return about $24 million to the 44th District alone.
Expanding Medicaid coverage could create 30,000 Virginia jobs.
Closing the gap actually saves Virginia taxpayers over $1 billion over the next decade because the federal government would be paying for services currently covered by the state General Fund, like uncompensated care at university hospitals, prison healthcare and other programs. Expansion could save $280 million in this budget cycle alone.
On Monday, Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed a budget to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program and reapply the savings to other programs. He has proposed a 2% pay increase for teachers, more money for pre-kindergarten education, mental health, land conservation, and to fully fund our contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.
Virginians are currently sending money to the federal government to fund Medicaid expansion in other states like California, Massachusetts, Ohio and Arizona while leaving Virginians’ federal tax dollars on the table.
Expansion will help reign in out-of-control health insurance costs by making preventive care available to people before their illnesses and conditions become exacerbated and more expensive when they cannot pay for care. Today, expenses like uninsured or uncompensated care in hospital emergency rooms are passed along to private insurance payors, thus raising costs for all of us.
Expanding Medicaid is supported by most of the health care industry, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and a bipartisan group of state senators. The only obstruction to making it happen is the Republican Caucus of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Every member of our community deserves the dignity of health care coverage. No one should have to live in fear that an illness will cost them their home or their livelihood.
If you have any feedback, please send me as an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Puller-Surovell Healthcare Town Hall
Today, State Senator Toddy Puller and I held a town hall meeting regarding proposals to close the uninsured healthcare gap in Virginia with Virginia Secretary of Health William Hazel. About forty Mt. Vernon residents showed up to learn about closing the gap and ask questions.
Here are some bottom lines:
You can see the presentation we gave below.
Also, about three weeks ago, I presented an analysis with the Progressive Caucus that discusses some of the politics surrounding the issues and makes some statewide projections. You can watch the presentation and see the Press Package below.
Weekly Column: U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Second Public Hearing Next Week!
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of March 18, 2014.
U.S. 1 Version 2.0: Second Public Hearing Next Week!
On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 6:00 p.m., the second public hearing regarding the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Alternative Analysis Study will take place at the South County Government Center. The study was funded by a $2 million budget amendment secured by Senator Toddy Puller and I last session and is being administered by Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transit. It is probably the most important study for the future of our area to ever take place.
The purpose of the study is to consider all factors clearly define the key transportation needs for our community, consider a range of multimodal transportation solutions to address the needs, and arrive at a recommended program of transportation improvements and accompanying land uses to lay the groundwork for development in our area through the year 2035.
The meeting will include the unveiling of four potential transit options for the U.S. 1 Corridor: (1) Dedicated Curbside Enhanced Buses, (2) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Dedicated Median, (3) Light Rail in Dedicated Median, and (4) a Hybrid Metrorail-BRT plan that extends the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley and Dedicated Median BRT to the Occoquan. Each alternative has its advantages and disadvantages. The study will also propose new bicycle and pedestrian improvements. The March 26 public hearing begins the public input process before running these scenarios through final evaluations to determine a locally preferred alternative (“LPA”) in anticipation of applying for federal grant funding and seeking additional funding from the state. Senator Toddy Puller, Senator Adam Ebbin and I are also currently working on securing an additional $4 million in the current budget to fund environmental studies and preliminary engineering to lay the groundwork for the actual construction of the LPA. Along with our efforts, Supervisors Gerry Hyland and Jeff McKay have elevated the priority of widening U.S. 1 from Costco to Fort Belvoir on the County’s request list for the Northern Virginia Transportation Administration’s funding list. We are poised to finally see movement. These decisions largely revolve around two issues. First, is how much density is appropriate. Second, is funding the project. The least expensive and least disruptive is dedicated curbside lanes for “enhanced” busing ($12/rider). The most expensive to construct and operate is light rail in the median ($21/rider). A Yellow Line Extension to Hybla Valley with median bus rapid transit (BRT) south is the third most expensive to construct and operate and involves significant land use changes on Beacon Hill and in Hybla Valley ($18/rider). It might seem difficult to envision our community 20 years from now. I will be on the verge of retirement (knock on wood) while my four children between 1st and 7th grades will be wrapping up college, thinking about getting married and where to settle down. We will have five presidential elections during that time and probably half of the people living here will have moved or passed away. However, as I explained in my previous four-column series, the mode of transit on U.S. 1 has far-reaching consequences for schools, traffic, jobs, the environment, affordable housing, property values and the quality of life here in our part of Fairfax County. On March 26, the presentation will include graphics to help people visualize what enhanced density on Beacon Hill and Hybla Valley will actually look like. Presenters will also provide depictions of different road and transit configurations, including bicycle facilities. No matter what we do, by 2035, at least 17,000 new jobs and 30,000 more people will be living within half a mile of U.S. 1 whether we like it or not. New rounds of the Defense Department’s Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) are likely to happen and could bring even more people, traffic and economic activity to the corridor. We can either address these challenges head-on in advance -- prepare -- or struggle to deal with them after they occur. I choose the former. Good transportation and land use planning requires a long lead time. I hope we will see a standing-room-only turnout at this meeting. If you have suggestions or questions, please email me at email@example.com.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
The Digital Divide and Standards of Learning
This past weekend, my wife and I were discussing our third grader's first academic right of passage - taking her first Standards of Learning or SOL test.
She was struggling with her math, so we had her practice with an online program called SOL Pass
advertises itself as "Virginia's Leader in SOL Science and Social Studies Practice and Review for Elementary and Middle School." It is a nice resource, but it also got me thinking again about The Digital Divide which I have written about in other articles on this blog:
Many children in the 44th District do not have parents who are sophisticated enough to know whether their children are struggling on SOL material or to understand it themselves. Even if they do understand, many of the children in the 44th District do not have computers or broadband in their homes that are capable of accessing SOL Pass
When I think about why every elementary school on the west side of U.S. 1, Bucknell Elementary, and Mount Vernon High School struggle to maintain their academic accreditation with the state, these issues should be front and center.
My children have the opportunity to practice and test for their SOL tests that many children in the 44th District cannot even attempt to access because they do not have the equipment of broadband connections.
I will be unveiling a project to begin to address in this in the 44th District very soon. But we must also address this at the statewide level. Closing The Digital Divide must also be at the forefront of education reform in Virginia.
44th District 2014 Paving Requests
After analyzing the results of my 2014 Constituent Survey, I have submitted all of my constituent paving requests to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The big winners were Fort Hunt Road, U.S. 1, Old Mill, and Sherwood Hall Lane. You can read the full list below.
Weekly Column: The Top 20 Reasons the 2014 Session Mattered for the 44th District
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of March 11, 2014.
The Top 20 Reasons the 2014 Session Mattered for the 44th District
The 2014 General Assembly session has adjourned and now moves into a special session to finish the budget.
Notwithstanding many disputes, it has been a surprisingly productive session. The legislature passed twelve of my bills in some form and four of my budget amendments. The budget amendments are now part of ongoing budget negotiations.
Below are the top 20 reasons why this session was important for people of the 44th District. Even though some good bills were defeated, debating them has value and it moves us closer to solutions long-term.
(1) Ethics Reforms. We passed a $250 cap on tangible gifts, all gift disclosures will be online, gifts to family members must be reported and tangible gifts during litigation with the state are banned. The legislature also passed my bill banning gifts and political contributions during Governor’s Opportunity Fund grant negotiations . We should have gone much farther and I will continue to work to strengthen ethics laws.
(2) Standards of Learning (SOL) Reform. The number of SOL tests in grades 3-8 will be reduced and we created a new committee to recommend additional reforms.
(3) School Grades Reform. The legislature delayed for two years the pending issuance of “A-F” letter grades for schools. (4) Digital Divide Ignored. The General Assembly rejected my legislation to require elementary-secondary schools systems using electronic textbooks to provide free computers. (5) Mental Health. Emergency custody orders for the acutely mentally ill were extended from six to 8 hours, involuntary detention was extended from 48 to 72 hours, plus the state is required to set up a comprehensive acute psychiatric bed registry to allow caseworkers to do real-time searches for beds. (6) Hybrid Vehicle Tax. The legislature passed my and Senator Adam Ebbin’s bill repealing the $64 hybrid tax and requiring a refund, honoring the wishes of nearly 8,000 Virginians who signed our online petition. (7) Preventing Identity Theft of Minors. The General Assembly approved a bill I carried with Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn allowing parents to freeze the credit of their minor children to prevent identity theft. (8) Power Line Undergrounding. The legislature passed a bill to authorize our electricity company, Dominion Resources, to charge ratepayers for undergrounding residential power lines. This will mean fewer power line failures in older neighborhoods during major weather events. (9) Stalemate on Marriage Equality and Women’s Rights. I did not succeed in removing Virginia’s 1977 ban on same sex marriage from the state law or in repealing the 2006 Constitutional ban, and other attacks on marriage equality were defeated. Legislation to repeal last year’s forced ultrasounds before abortions and my bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment were rejected. (10) Safer Cycling. We enacted legislation requiring a three-foot passing distance around bicycles. We defeated a bill banning tailgating cyclists. (11) Electric Chair Defeat. We defeated efforts to mandate executions by electric chair if there are shortages of lethal injection drugs. The legislature killed my bill to abolish the electric chair. (12) State Corporation Commission (SCC) Sunshine. We adopted legislation requiring access to records relating to the SCC’s operations. This was spurred by my legislation to apply the Freedom of Information Act to the SCC, which was defeated. (13) Homeowners Associations Defeated. The legislature defeated legislation to allow homeowners associations to grant themselves the powers to fine homeowners without changing their government documents and instead adopted legislation expanding court access to both homeowners and associations.
(14) Justice Improved. We passed my legislation copatroned with Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva from Virginia Beach authorizing a $5 fee for traffic tickets to purchase equipment and software to automate the processing of traffic tickets. This will free up officers to catch bad guys instead of doing data entry.
Also, Fairfax County saved one Circuit Court and General District Court Judgeship. A Juvenile Court Judgeship was eliminated pending a judge’s retirement, but language was adopted to reconsider the study in light of the number of cases involving interpreters. We will revisitthis in future sessions. (15) VA DREAM Act Denied. The legislature, unfortunately, defeated a bill to allow in-state college tuition for Virginia immigrant children granted deferred action by the federal government. (16) Car Title Lenders Dominate. The legislature killed a bill to restrict car title lending locations. (17) Minimum Wage Hike Killed. The legislature rejected efforts to raise the minimum wage. Three critically important issues for the 44th District are hung up in the pending budget negotiations: (18) Medicaid Expansion. The expansion of Virginia’s healthcare program for low-income and disabled families would cover 400,000 people, and result in about $24.9 million of new healthcare spending and 444 jobs right here in the 44thDistrict. (19) $4 Million for U.S. 1 Study. Senator Toddy Puller and I secured $4 million to continue the preliminary engineering, environmental studies and federal grant requests for U.S. 1 transit in the Senate Budget. (20) Secondary Education Funding. At least $47.1 million of new money for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). Expanding Medicaid could potentially add another $20 million per biennium for FCPS.It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have feedback.
Little Hunting Creek Cleanup Saturday, April 5, 2014!
Mark your calendars to come and join Delegate Surovell for his annual partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation
and The Friends of Little Hunting Creek
to continue the war on trash, litter and shopping carts in Little Hunting Creek!
Del. Scott Surovell's Annual Little Hunting Creek Cleanup
Saturday, April 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Three Sites in Hybla Valley
At 166 Shopping Carts Removed & Counting!
Please RSVP so we know how many people we have along with how many bags, gloves, etc. we will need!
Here's some prior articles for your information.
Weekly Column: One Week Left!
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of March 3, 2014.
One Week Left for General Assembly
We have one more week before the General Assembly Session is scheduled to adjourn, and pressure is mounting to finish our work.
On Friday, live on WTOP, Governor McAuliffe signed legislation repealing the $64 per year Hybrid Tax and mandating refunds to everyone who paid. I am pleased that we will no longer be taxing virtuous conduct and that the wishes of 7,700 Virginians expressed in the petition I circulated with Senator Adam Ebbin were honored.
Closing the healthcare coverage gap or the Medicaid expansion continues to dominate the discussion in Richmond. Republicans in the State Senate have proposed a compromise plan which would use federal monies to fund a state insurance program to cover some, but not all of the individuals currently not insured. It is not as comprehensive as a full Medicaid expansion, but it is at least something.
Unfortunately, the House of Delegates has continued to refuse to negotiate on expanding Medicaid and continued to insist that we need to go slow. Families’ lack of health insurance is an urgent matter along with escalating health insurance premiums. Virginians are also paying a whole series of new taxes due to the Affordable Care Act that are being diverted around the United States but coming back to Virginia. I also do not think it is right to fund a $400 million new office building for ourselves while telling 400,000 Virginians we cannot afford to expand health coverage at virtually no cost to Virginia taxpayers.
Both sides are now threatening to refuse to pass a budget which means our session will either go into overtime or we will adjourn and immediately convene a special session to consider a budget.
We also continued work on ethics legislation last week. The House Republicans agreed to include my proposal to limit gifts to the Governor and Attorney General during litigation. However, they limited it to tangible gifts and still allowed intangible gifts so Johnnie Williams’ $1,500 turkey dinner for Ken Cuccinelli will still be allowed. Also, the Senate is pushing back on restrictions on the House’s version of ethics reform. I am concerned that the bill that ultimately emerges might not be strict enough.
We also passed legislation last week reducing the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) exams. SOL reform has been a bipartisan goal this year. That moves closer to reality.
Legislation attempting to make “revenge porn” a misdemeanor was approved this week. I voted against this legislation a number of reasons. First, nearly all “revenge porn” websites are outside Virginia and Commonwealth’s Attorneys rarely extradict accused person’s charged with misdemeanors. The legislation also could have unintended consequences, and the crime is extremely difficult to prove as a matter of evidence. The better course of action was a civil cause of action instead of involving our Commonwealth’s Attorneys in one more series of crimes that are very time-intensive and difficult to prove. I have written a fuller explanation on my online newsletter at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
Some of my government efficiency legislation is closer to law. For five years, I have been pressing legislation allowing Fairfax County to charge a $5 per ticket fee to fund software and equipment that will allow police computers to communicate directly with court computers when writing tickets. This will keep police officers’ out of danger on highway shoulders. It will also improve ticket accuracy and free up eight Fairfax County Police employees who currently are required to hand-enter over 200,000 summonses per year to focus on actual law enforcement.
Finally, the Governor also signed my legislation clarifying the control of a real estate brokerage upon death of the owner. This will protect consumers from nasty collateral family disputes when selling or buying real estate. This bill was suggested to me by 44th
District resident and Estates Attorney Deborah Matthews.
There is still much to be done during this last week of session as we continue to reconcile competing bills. The budget is the biggest dispute, but ethics legislation, A-F schools grades, SOL reforms, and judge allocations remain outstanding.
If you have any feedback, always feel free to send email to me at email@example.com
. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.