The great British philosophers collectively known as The Kinks advised “give the people what they want.” Has there ever been a better musical expression of the free market? Of course, they also advised us to be careful about whom we pick up at a club down in old Soho, but I digress.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about some of the budget amendments that legislators from Southwest and Southside have proposed. To my surprise, it became the most popular thing on our site for a while. Who am I to deny the public’s will?
That list wasn’t meant to be comprehensive, just a sample of some of the biggest and most interesting requests. But since there’s such obvious public hunger for this information, here’s a sequel – even more budget amendments that our legislators have proposed!
Let’s go through these by dollar amounts.
The biggest on this list comes from House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, and state Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County. They’re asking for $23 million to construct “a new inpatient behavioral health facility with up to 72 beds” in the Mount Rogers Planning District, which runs from Bristol to Wythe County.
Another big request comes from state Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg, who proposes $16.9 million “for the renovation of research facilities across the eleven Agricultural Research and Extension Centers at the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station.”
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, asks for $15 million to establish “a grant program within the Department of Environmental Quality, for the purpose of supporting local government recycling programs.” I should point out here that Virginia operates on a two-year budget, so that’s not $15 million a year but $7.5 million in each budget year. Most of these requests I’m mentioning are the two-year totals. Sometimes, they’re all bunched together in one year, sometimes they’re spread out over two years, depending on the nature of the requests – a capital funding request or a programmatic request that needs more consistent funding. For our purposes here today, I’m presenting all these figures as the total amount over the biennium.
Perhaps the most surprising request in this batch is a request for $15 million “to establish a grant program to expand Electric Vehicle infrastructure in rural and underserved localities in the Commonwealth.” What kind of tree-hugging, latte-drinking liberal introduced that? Umm, Kilgore. I don’t know his hot beverage choices but his credentials as a stalwart conservative are still very much in order. Here’s some irony: For anyone in Appalachian Power’s service territory who charges up an electric car, they’re effectively putting in a fuel mix that’s 64% coal, so in this part of the state electric-powered cars are mostly coal-powered cars.
There’s also a budget amendment asking for nearly $14.2 million for child care in the coal counties. Once again the sponsor on the House side is Kilgore, joined on the Senate side by Pillion. If you didn’t picture Republicans asking for millions for child care (or electric car recharging stations, for that matter), then it’s time to update your mental image of the two parties. A recent study of the economy in the coal counties found that lack of child care is a major obstacle to economic development – and, as Grace Mamon recently reported, not just in the coal counties.
Some budget amendments are tied to specific bills. The bills create certain programs but then need budget amendments to fund them. That’s the case with another big request. State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, has a bill that would create an incentive fund to award grants to schools that either “restore high school programs that teach students skilled trades that lead to earning industry-recognized certifications or credentials or create or restore middle school programs that encourage and recruit students to participate in high school programs that teach students skilled trades that lead to earning industry-recognized certifications or credentials.” His budget amendment would set aside $10 million for the fund. Context: For a long time, society devalued the trades and pushed kids to go to college whether they wanted to or not. Now it’s clear that the economy is short of a lot of skilled trades, and we’re seeing the pendulum swing back the other way. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Danville – which is in Stanley’s district – has made a big point of pushing skilled trades as part of its goal to establish itself as an advanced manufacturing center; see this story by Amy Trent for more info.
State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, is asking for $7.7 million for various programs related to Virginia’s battlefields. This includes $2 million “in support of a history and education center in New Market” and increasing the state’s existing commitment to the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund by $1.5 million to bring it to $5 million. An explanation attached to the amendment says: “Funding has not been raised in over 10 years and battlefield acquisition costs have increased substantially. Given the Fund’s matching requirement, this investment will result in the acquisition of up to $10.0 million of Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War battlefield lands in the Commonwealth over the biennium.” Civil War generals made the mistake of fighting their battles on highly developable lands in the urban crescent. Clearly, they didn’t file for zoning exceptions back in the day.
Moving on: State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County (but soon to be D-Charlotesville), and Del. John Avioli, R-Staunton, have each asked for $4.8 million for “streetscape improvements” in Lovingston, the county seat of Nelson County. That request illustrates how gerrymandered our previous districts were because here are two legislators from west of the Blue Ridge representing a county on the east side.
Both Kilgore and Pillion, teaming up once again, have each asked for about $3 million for the Health Wagon, a well-known mobile health unit serving the coal counties.
Other health-related requests pop up in the budget amendments. Hanger asks for $2.5 million to establish a Pediatric Cancer Research Fund.
Kilgore has requested $2 million for Virginia Tech to partner with Micronic Technologies, a Bristol-based wastewater treatment company, “to establish a pilot to utilize its cutting edge climate tech wastewater concentration technology, developed in Virginia, in order to begin the process of resolving ongoing odor and environmental issues at the Bristol Landfill.” The landfill is notoriously stinky and has become an ongoing issue in the city. It seems odd to me for the legislature to direct a university to work with a specific company but, for you cynics out there, the Virginia Public Access Project shows no campaign contributions from Micronic or its founders, except for $650 worth of donations – which in the political world is kind of nothing – all back in 2013-2014 and all to Democrats.
Meanwhile, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, asks for $1 million “for the Virginia Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs to expand community-based prevention and mentoring services.”
Hanger has a bill requiring the state to issue permanent “farm use” license plates for those eligible; he’s requesting $500,000 to make that happen if the bill passes.
State Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and Avioli – not a combination you usually see – both have amendments asking for money for the Woodrow Wilson presidential library in Staunton, just different amounts. Edwards asks for $500,000, Avioli for $577,000 – plus another $70,000 for James Madison University to do some “archaeological research in the rear garden.”
Both Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, and Deeds – another odd couple pairing – ask for $500,000 for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities “to support Virginia Indian tribes with capacity-building initiatives as well as Commonwealth-wide education programming with content focused on Virginia Indian history and culture, past and present.”
State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, and Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, neither of whom represent the coal counties or anywhere close, are both seeking $436,000 for the Division of Economic Development and Community Vitality to create two Coalfield Community Development Program Manager positions to “coordinate a cross-government approach ensuring effective implementation of current and future programs benefiting Virginia’s coalfield region” with particular emphasis on “coal reclamation projects, and economic and community development programs.” The amendment also directs the state to set up an inter-agency task force to review and make recommendations on “the establishment of a downtown revitalization matching fund for communities of less than 2,000 people; expansion of the Tobacco Commission’s Talent Attraction Program; support for the Southwest Virginia Energy Park, known as the “Energy Lab” project; and support for the innovative Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing project.” Cardinal has written some of the those programs, such as the talent attraction program and the energy storage project.
Here’s what seems like another odd couple, except it’s not. Both Edwards and Del. Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania County, ask for $429,960 – a rather specific amount – “to provide training and support to public defenders and court-appointed counsel regarding sealing and expungement” of records. The amendment notes that this is a recommendation of the Crime Commission, of which Edwards is chair and Adams is vice chair. Legislators often wind up carrying bills to put into effect recommendations from commissions on which they have served. I should also point out that while the partisan fights in the General Assembly get the most attention, there are lots of other – less controversial – bills that often find Democrats and Republicans on the same side. Here you just saw three. On the previous list, I pointed out how a bipartisan group of legislators from Botetourt County to Tazewell County have joined together to support funding for life sciences labs in the Roanoke and New River valleys. Just in case you need a reminder, or something to make you feel better about society, that list includes Del. Terry Austin of Botetourt County, Del. Jason Ballard of Giles County, state Sen. Travis Hackworth of Tazewell County and state Sen. David Suetterlein of Roanoke County on the Republican side, and Edwards on the Democratic side. Also, Ballard and Edwards are both asking for money for transportation research at Virginia Tech. See – it’s not all partisan fighting in Richmond.
I thought I had summarized all the requests for trail funding last week but I missed one: Del. Will Wampler, R-Washington County, asks for $260,000 “to complete design and construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant walking path and fishing area along Big Cedar Creek in the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve” in Russell County.
Edwards asks for $250,000 for a pilot program at Carilion Clinic to “study, operationalize and determine barriers for Opioid Education and Naloxone Distribution in the emergency department to high-risk opioid use disorder and opioid overdose patients” who show up. (Here’s where I need to point out the usual disclaimer: Carilion is one of our major donors, but under our rules, donations have no influence on news decisions. You can be a donor and have no influence on news decisions, too – here’s how.)
Finally – at least for this round – Austin asks for $117,000 to install highway markers “in support of the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail.” (Botetourt County feels strongly about Lewis and Clark because William Clark passed through the county long enough to court and marry a local bride. Let’s overlook the fact that he was 38 at the time and she was 16.)
So, do I need to recap a third round of budget amendments? On Sunday, Feb. 20, we’ll get our first look at how these amendments fared – that’s when the chamber’s budget-writing committees (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) report their respective versions of the budget. Eventually, a conference committee will wheel and deal to work out the differences. There’s no guarantee that any of these will survive past Sunday. But if they do, you could drive your electric car down the well-marked Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail, perhaps veer off to the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve for some hiking, and still count on finding a place to recharge.