SENATOR MARK OBENSHAIN’S REPORT ON THE 2012 GENERAL ASSEMBLY, WEEK 6

Here is Senator Mark Obenshain‘s latest report on the General Assembly.

Working Together for a Better Virginia: Week 6 in the State Senate

Yesterday, I took to the floor to talk about consensus and bipartisanship. If you’ve read recent newspaper coverage, you would think that these words are entirely alien to the General Assembly. Fortunately, that’s not quite true.

Sometimes, however, there is a tendency for hot button issues–like human life, animal rights, Second Amendment rights, and even the Equal Rights Amendment–to overshadow the many other important matters on which members of the General Assembly link arms and seek to work on together, across party lines. Disputes make better news copy, but good government often doesn’t. So indulge me, briefly, in a review of some of the ways the Senate has come together to work for all Virginians.

Job Creation

We did it on job creation. Take two bills by way of example: the extension of the telework tax credit, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (a Democrat) and the expansion of the Virginia Investment Partnership Act, patroned by Senator Steve Newman (a Republican). Both were bipartisan victories. More importantly, by helping to keep Virginia a pro-jobs, pro-growth state, they are victories for all Virginians.

Education

Or consider education. Republicans and Democrats worked together to advance two innovative approaches to improving and supplementing public education, advancing legislation to improve virtual school programs in Virginia-the bill had Newman, a Republican, and George Barker, a Democrat, as chief co-patrons-and enabling private colleges to operate “college partnership laboratory schools,” in partnership with local school boards, just like public colleges and universities can now do. That bill, SB 475, was patroned by Senator Mamie Locke, a Democrat, and enjoyed unanimous support in the Senate.

Unfortunately, one education vote that should have been bipartisan turned out not to be. Educational improvement tax credits enjoy broad bipartisan support in blue states like Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, purple states like Florida, and red states like Georgia and Indiana. All of those states have similar programs, and they’re seeing impressive results.

The bill passed the Senate on a party line vote. But I know this with certainty: when it comes time to extend the program in three years (there’s a sunset clause), that vote is going to be bipartisan. That has been the experience of Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, where, once it became clear that educational improvement tax credits help students, save money, and improve both public and private schools, members of both parties have been enthusiastic in their support.

Safe Communities

Democrats and Republicans worked together in the Senate to make our communities safer, enacting sentencing reform for repeat drug offenders and helping law enforcement fight the introduction of new synthetic drugs.

The Challenges Ahead

But there’s more work ahead, and the challenges are great. Over the past two years, the number of Americans dependant on public subsidies has risen 23% , with over 67 million Americans receiving government assistance — and that’s a lowball figure that doesn’t count a number of tax credits that arguably ought to count. The average annual benefit is a staggering $32,748. Even worse, at least 53% of all babies born in America are now enrolled in the WIC program.

Governmental dependence is creeping up the income ladder. You don’t get to those sort of figures with safety nets for low-income Americans alone. Increasingly, individuals in a broad range of income levels are turning to government for assistance under an ever-growing panoply of programs.

Whatever your beliefs about the proper size and role of government, these figures hardly suggest a healthy economy – and that means that the real work lies ahead. At all levels, governments will have to deal with rising demand and spiraling costs. Politics being what it is, everyone looks to score rhetorical points, whether it’s on feral cats (yes, really), guns, or social issues. And yes, these things are important.

But to read the papers, to watch the evening news, is to think it’s all that happens here in Richmond. And I get it: these disputes sell papers. Intense floor debates draw viewers. Just know that there are other issues in play, too, issues on which Republicans and Democrats will have to work together.

It’s a 20-20 Senate. We’re not going to pretend that our disagreements don’t exist or that they don’t matter. We do need to make sure that they don’t interfere with our efforts to put Virginians back to work and to stoke the economic engine to ensure that when the recovery comes, Virginia will be at the leading edge.

New Developments on PLAs

In light of the passage of SB 242, my bill banning government contracts from mandating project labor agreements (basically “only union shops need apply” clauses), and its House companion HB 33 (patroned by Delegates Hugo and Comstock), the Metro Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) – the group behind the Metrorail expansion project – decided to drop their plans to mandate a PLA and instead create a massive incentive for “voluntarily” adopting one that basically precludes any contractor who can’t or won’t be bound by a PLA from even getting a chance to bid.

The first stage of the MWAA bidding process deals with vendor qualifications, and corporations promising to abide by a PLA get a 10% bonus on their “score” – enough to leave practically any company without the bonus in the dust. Under this alternative proposal, we will still never even get to see the actual bid of firms that don’t sign on to MWAA’s union-only policy. And that’s a real problem in a state where 95% of contractors aren’t unionized, since it means that Virginia jobs go to out-of-state union labor. I believe that this alternative proposal violates SB 242, and I can assure you that this battle is far from over. Virginia jobs depend on it.

Visitors

My office was as busy as ever this week, with visitors from Eastern Mennonite High School, James Madison University, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, Sentara, Valley Health, the Virginia Association for the Gifted, the Valley Family Forum, Valley Health, the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Association of Realtors, and elsewhere. I always appreciate visits from friends from the district and across the Commonwealth, and as always, I encourage you to keep in touch. Have a great weekend!

Yesterday, I took to the floor to talk about consensus and bipartisanship. If you’ve read recent newspaper coverage, you would think that these words are entirely alien to the General Assembly. Fortunately, that’s not quite true.

Sometimes, however, there is a tendency for hot button issues–like human life, animal rights, Second Amendment rights, and even the Equal Rights Amendment–to overshadow the many other important matters on which members of the General Assembly link arms and seek to work on together, across party lines. Disputes make better news copy, but good government often doesn’t. So indulge me, briefly, in a review of some of the ways the Senate has come together to work for all Virginians.

Job Creation

We did it on job creation. Take two bills by way of example: the extension of the telework tax credit, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (a Democrat) and the expansion of the Virginia Investment Partnership Act, patroned by Senator Steve Newman (a Republican). Both were bipartisan victories. More importantly, by helping to keep Virginia a pro-jobs, pro-growth state, they are victories for all Virginians.

Education

Or consider education. Republicans and Democrats worked together to advance two innovative approaches to improving and supplementing public education, advancing legislation to improve virtual school programs in Virginia-the bill had Newman, a Republican, and George Barker, a Democrat, as chief co-patrons-and enabling private colleges to operate “college partnership laboratory schools,” in partnership with local school boards, just like public colleges and universities can now do. That bill, SB 475, was patroned by Senator Mamie Locke, a Democrat, and enjoyed unanimous support in the Senate.

Unfortunately, one education vote that should have been bipartisan turned out not to be. Educational improvement tax credits enjoy broad bipartisan support in blue states like Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, purple states like Florida, and red states like Georgia and Indiana. All of those states have similar programs, and they’re seeing impressive results.

The bill passed the Senate on a party line vote. But I know this with certainty: when it comes time to extend the program in three years (there’s a sunset clause), that vote is going to be bipartisan. That has been the experience of Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, where, once it became clear that educational improvement tax credits help students, save money, and improve both public and private schools, members of both parties have been enthusiastic in their support.

Safe Communities

Democrats and Republicans worked together in the Senate to make our communities safer, enacting sentencing reform for repeat drug offenders and helping law enforcement fight the introduction of new synthetic drugs.

The Challenges Ahead

But there’s more work ahead, and the challenges are great. Over the past two years, the number of Americans dependant on public subsidies has risen 23% , with over 67 million Americans receiving government assistance — and that’s a lowball figure that doesn’t count a number of tax credits that arguably ought to count. The average annual benefit is a staggering $32,748. Even worse, at least 53% of all babies born in America are now enrolled in the WIC program.

Governmental dependence is creeping up the income ladder. You don’t get to those sort of figures with safety nets for low-income Americans alone. Increasingly, individuals in a broad range of income levels are turning to government for assistance under an ever-growing panoply of programs.

Whatever your beliefs about the proper size and role of government, these figures hardly suggest a healthy economy – and that means that the real work lies ahead. At all levels, governments will have to deal with rising demand and spiraling costs. Politics being what it is, everyone looks to score rhetorical points, whether it’s on feral cats (yes, really), guns, or social issues. And yes, these things are important.

But to read the papers, to watch the evening news, is to think it’s all that happens here in Richmond. And I get it: these disputes sell papers. Intense floor debates draw viewers. Just know that there are other issues in play, too, issues on which Republicans and Democrats will have to work together.

It’s a 20-20 Senate. We’re not going to pretend that our disagreements don’t exist or that they don’t matter. We do need to make sure that they don’t interfere with our efforts to put Virginians back to work and to stoke the economic engine to ensure that when the recovery comes, Virginia will be at the leading edge.

New Developments on PLAs

In light of the passage of SB 242, my bill banning government contracts from mandating project labor agreements (basically “only union shops need apply” clauses), and its House companion HB 33 (patroned by Delegates Hugo and Comstock), the Metro Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) – the group behind the Metrorail expansion project – decided to drop their plans to mandate a PLA and instead create a massive incentive for “voluntarily” adopting one that basically precludes any contractor who can’t or won’t be bound by a PLA from even getting a chance to bid.

The first stage of the MWAA bidding process deals with vendor qualifications, and corporations promising to abide by a PLA get a 10% bonus on their “score” – enough to leave practically any company without the bonus in the dust. Under this alternative proposal, we will still never even get to see the actual bid of firms that don’t sign on to MWAA’s union-only policy. And that’s a real problem in a state where 95% of contractors aren’t unionized, since it means that Virginia jobs go to out-of-state union labor. I believe that this alternative proposal violates SB 242, and I can assure you that this battle is far from over. Virginia jobs depend on it.

Visitors

My office was as busy as ever this week, with visitors from Eastern Mennonite High School, James Madison University, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, Sentara, Valley Health, the Virginia Association for the Gifted, the Valley Family Forum, Valley Health, the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Association of Realtors, and elsewhere. I always appreciate visits from friends from the district and across the Commonwealth, and as always, I encourage you to keep in touch. Have a great weekend!

With best regards,

Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator

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