The General Assembly is headed into its final week of work for the 2015 General Assembly session. Our budget conferees have been meeting to resolve differences between the budgets that passed the House and Senate. Fortunately, the differences do not appear to be too large to delay our scheduled adjournment for this yearâ??s session.
At the beginning of the session, this paper was kind enough to publish our annual survey of issues that may come before the legislature, and many of you took time to share your thoughts with us. Please know that I review the surveys that we receive, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the input that we received.
When asked what should be the top priority of the House of Delegates, creating jobs and improving the economy, cutting wasteful government spending, and fighting federal government overreach all received strong support. We also asked what core services provided by state government are most important to you. Fostering jobs and economic development received the strongest support followed by keeping Virginians safe from crime. As Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Agriculture and Commerce & Trade secretariats, I have joined my colleagues and the Administration in mutual efforts to improve Virginiaâ??s economy for the short term as well as the long term future.
Many survey respondents believed that budgetary restraints should lead to reduced government spending and streamlined government programs and services. I am pleased that the budget that passed the House of Delegates eliminated a number of fee increases that were proposed by the McAuliffe Administration in their budget.
Higher education has been a focus of our work this session, particularly as it relates to affordability. Survey respondents were split when asked how the General Assembly should address the rising cost of higher education. Prioritizing building construction projects, encouraging colleges to offer â??barebonesâ? college degrees and three year degrees in certain fields all received support. In this yearâ??s session, we have introduced the concept of a â??flat feeâ? degree and increased incentives for certain community college students to transfer into our four year colleges and universities. We also have worked to cap fees that students pay to support college athletic programs.
Finally, it is notable that a slight majority of survey respondents thought that last yearâ??s ethics reforms were enough to improve Virginiaâ??s transparency, disclosure, and ethics laws. We have taken additional steps this session, including lowering the gift cap from $250 to $100 and more closely regulating travel by legislators. I supported this yearâ??s legislation and am thankful that most of those that responded appear to have confidence and trust that legislators are acting in the interests of their constituents. Whether dealing with constituents or my colleagues in Richmond, disagreements on policy are to be expected, but debating and negotiating with trustworthy adversaries are essential to good government.