Delegates discuss hopes for 2013
Always-simmering tensions between state and local budgets boiled over last year, especially in Montgomery County, which has mounted something of a yearlong campaign to wring more aid from the state.
With the General Assembly set to convene again Wednesday, Dels. Joseph Yost and Nick Rush, New River Valley Republicans whose districts cover parts of the counties of Montgomery, Giles and Pulaski, as well as Radford, paused to answer a few questions about their hopes for this year’s session.
Q: What are your top three priorities for this year’s General Assembly session?
A: Yost: There are numerous issues that will arise in the legislature including uranium mining, transportation, Medicaid expansion, K-12 reform and budgetary items, and while all these are certainly important issues, I think the biggest challenge and my top priority will be to continue to fight for southwest Virginia.
Unfortunately, with every redistricting that takes place southwest Virginia continues to see reduced representation; thereby, losing important voices and votes.
In 2012, we saw numerous bills that would have been detrimental to not only southwest Virginia but all rural areas.
Luckily, rural legislators, regardless of party politics, banded together and helped fight them off. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much longer that will be the case.
As a native of southwest Virginia, this is not only a vitally important issue for me personally, but all future generations in this area, as well.
A: Rush: I have several priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session.
I’ve presented a common sense legislative agenda that I hope will bring efficiencies to state government and improve the prosperity and livelihood of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
I plan to represent the 7th House district by voting in their interests to continue expanding economic and educational opportunities and securing our freedoms. Additionally, my office has set a high standard for constituent services, and I intend to maintain this level of service while in Richmond.
Q: Montgomery County’s budget problems prompted lots of discussion last year. Can the state help the county?
Are there measures you’ll push to make it easier for the county to afford schools and other services?
A: Yost: House Bill 1449 seeks to allow the sale of mixed beverages at interchanges 128 and 109 on Interstate 81. For many years county officials have sought to develop these properties, particularly those at the exit 109.
However, it has proven impossible to get any chain restaurants, such as Applebees or Outback, to build in an area where they cannot have a license for mixed beverages.
By allowing these designations, we will have the ability then to open these areas for restaurants and hopefully a few hotels, fast food stops and gas stations.
Currently, at the 109 interchange the county collects around $12,000 on property taxes per year. But by diversifying and expanding the tax base, it is expected to increase that amount to nearly $400,000 in property taxes, plus the added ability to collect meals taxes from restaurants and transient occupancy taxes from hotels.
House Bill 1449 is a strong bi-partisan effort between myself and State Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) to bring additional economic opportunities to the region.
A: Rush: Having served 12 years on the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and regularly meeting with the current board and [county] school board members, I am well aware of the difficult times the county is facing.
I also hear the concerns of Montgomery County residents worried about the high cost of school construction, new court house construction and the relocation of the school board administrative office.
Last session, I voted against several bills that would have placed unfunded mandates and increased costs to local governments.
This session I am supporting legislation that will lower the county’s health insurance costs, which would provide the county additional funds for other uses, such as school construction costs or deferred property tax increases.
Q: What are needs from other parts of your districts that you plan to address during this session?
A: Yost: In addition to providing increased revenues for Montgomery County, HB 1449 will also benefit the City of Radford.
The county has a revenue sharing agreement with the city, and 26.3 percent of revenues generated at exit 109 will go to the city of Radford.
Another bill that I have introduced, HB 1356, seeks to give local governments and school divisions the option of having all their employees and retirees, as well as their dependents, eligible to participate in the state employee health insurance plan in lieu of the current state-administered local health insurance plan.
By forming one large pool, you can allow for greater purchasing power at the state level and eliminate procurement and administrative costs at the local level.
This has been replicated in many states, and Virginia could likely benefit from a lack of duplication of effort in the procurement of health insurance. Estimated savings range from $47 million to $66 million based on experiences in other states.
Lastly, another important issue includes ensuring parity of campus law enforcement when compared to other law enforcement bodies.
Last year, several pieces of code were changed to include campus law enforcement in other law enforcement sections of the code.
One change remaining, though, is including campus police under the enhanced penalty provision of the assault and battery section. House Bill 1380, that I will be carrying, seeks to rectify this issue.
A: Rush: I am honored to represent the majority of Pulaski County and all of Floyd County.
I regularly meet with administrators of both localities.
I have also toured schools and met with the school superintendents within the district. I am introducing specific legislation that would allow the Floyd County Board of Supervisors to have oversight of ridge-top windmill farms.
Additionally, I am introducing legislation that will assist smaller localities, such as Floyd and Pulaski counties, to … implement storm water permitting procedures.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669
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