Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

Congratulations to Nick Benton and the Falls Church News-Press for 30 years of coverage in our community. A big shout out to FCNP for delivering local news into our homes for three decades.

The General Assembly has concluded its work for both the Regular and Special Sessions. The days were long and the issues were complex. The pandemic has touched Virginia like an octopus, reaching into our lives, jobs, economy, housing, utilities, education, access to healthcare and in many cases, struggles to survive.

With Virginia faring better than many states, due diligence and measured steps have helped keep the Commonwealth in good financial standing. The February revenue numbers added $750 million back into the amended budget we worked on during the Special Session I.

In the SFAC subcommittee for K-12, I led the effort to focus on key components from early education to initiatives to help close the student learning gap. Declining enrollment in both K-12 and higher education led to critical funding to keep school districts and universities shored up. Based on current demand for services, money was allocated to add school nurses, social workers, and counselors in K-12. We also focused on early childhood educators and funded many of First Lady Northam’s initiatives as a first step toward addressing educational disparities at an early age.

Significant funds have been allotted to address learning loss during this year of the pandemic. They will cover summer learning, afterschool programs, remediation, and recovery programs. In an attempt to provide necessary access for virtual learning and economic development, The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative included $49.8 million for broadband infrastructure grants.

Developing the workforce pipeline is instrumental to economic recovery. After years of working on the concept, I was the chief patron of the G3 legislation. “Get Skilled, Get a Job, and Give Back” facilitates high-demand jobs while providing funds for certain qualifying students in the Virginia Community College System. Further, we added funds to the Tuition Assistance Grant and other financial aid programs made available to students pursuing their degrees.

Rebuild Virginia and PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) have been a safety net for many businesses trying to stay alive and provide for their employees. Virginia will allow tax deductions of up to $100,000/business expenses in these programs that have forgiven the loans and grants.

Resources were allocated for job creation and additional capitalization for low-cost credit for Covid-19 impacted businesses.

Directly related to the Commonwealth’s Covid-19 response, we incorporated federal monies to implement mass vaccination efforts, communications, and modeling. The budget includes $6 million for additional epidemiologists, communicable disease nurses, and program managers.
Funding was restored for behavior health and dementia care. SB 1302 creates a crisis call center for people in a behavioral health crisis.

Keeping our region moving is always an issue at the budget conference table. The biennial spending plans include funds to expand commuter rail service; expand the capacity of the Interstate 64 in the Richmond region; fulfill Virginia’s obligation to Metro; provide statewide availability for fare-free services as well as enhancements for multi-use trails.

Falls Church was awarded $3.75 million for affordable housing initiatives through Amazon Grants to Virginia Housing as well as $10 million toward a redevelopment project. “The City is delighted to partner with Virginia Tech on the Smart City technology program that will bring cutting edge transportation solutions to Falls Church, like autonomous vehicles, adaptive lighting, and parking garage utilization indicators. These solutions will reduce pollution and traffic congestion and improve public safety,” said City of Falls Church Mayor P. David Tarter. “We are excited that the Virginia General Assembly included $10M in the recent budget, and appreciative to Senator Dick Saslaw for his efforts to bring this important program to the City.”

Turning to other highlights, we passed landmark legislation that abolishes the death penalty. Recreational use of marijuana will begin in 2024 along with licensing for producers in the Commonwealth as well as criminal record expungement.

It is now the Governor’s turn to review the legislation that flowed through the legislature. Any changes he deems necessary will be taken up at the Reconvene Session in April.