Transportation and Health Care Top List of Legislators Concerns

January 03, 2007

Jan. 3, 2007 -- Transportation and health care are the top issues concerning local legislators as they prepare for the General Assembly session that starts on Jan. 10.

“Transportation is the elephant in the room,” said Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, one of the four legislators who outlined their initiatives at a University-hosted forum at the Newcomb Hall Ballroom on Dec. 21. Also appearing were Del. Robert B. Bell, R-58th  district, Del. R. Steven Landes, R-25th district, and Del. David J. Toscano, D-57th district.

The legislature needs a solution that satisfies the entire state, Deeds said, because transportation is key to the overall economy.

Deeds also warned that the state would be facing a crisis in Medicaid funding,
which he described as a “growth area that will eat the budget,” and problems with long-term nursing care.

Assisted living and long-term care options concern Bell. He also wants to give more portability to the Virginia Retirement System — such as allowing an employee to take his or her retirement account with them if they change jobs into the private sector., bar sex offenders from school property and present legislation that will restrict the state’s powers of eminent domain following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. the City of New London decision, which permitted municipalities to transfer private property from one landowner to another for economic development.

Landes agreed that long-term care for older citizens and transportation needs to be dealt with, including the entire transportation funding structure. He would also like to see bonds issued to fund highway projects.

Landes’ other concerns include a shortage of nursing faculty in the state and restricting payday lending.

Toscano plans to push for a minimum wage bill, targeted tax relief and directing more state money into higher education.

In response to a question on on last year’s university restructuring legislation, which gave more autonomy to U.Va., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the College of William & Mary for such things as financial management, Deeds said he supported amendments to the legislation that required U.Va. to maintain wages and benefits that were no less than what the state was offering. Toscano said the University employees have a lot to offer the process, and he said it is in the University’s best interest to pay  competitive wages, to attract good employees.

Yoke San Reynolds, vice president and chief financial officer, said one result of restructing at U.Va. is that  the University was working on a new human resources system, and has held meetings with employees for input. She said there also will be a survey on human resources for all employees. She predicted that reshaping human resources would be a two-year process, led by Susan Carkeek, the new chief human resources officer.

Responding to a question on what steps the state could take to encourage financially challenged students to attend college and help with financial aid, Bell said more students start at community colleges, then transfer to four-year universities after two years. There should be a formula for students to get some of the money they saved the state by going to a community college, he said. Landes said future student aid would be more targeted than in the past, such as $1 million set aside for children of military families. Toscano said the state needs to invest in education, “from pre-K to college.”

The legislators were asked if they would support funds for the Charlottesville Free Clinic, which serves the uninsured. Landes said he would support it, but Bell noted that the Free Clinic exists in part due to Virginia’s insurance regulations, which have mandated the benefits that insurers in the state have to provide. As the number of mandated offerings expanded, he said health insurance prices are driven up. He advocated more flexibility in the insurance regulations to reduce health insurance costs.

When questioned about the retirement system, Landes said VRS needed more flexibility, because it was designed in an era when people would stay at one job for 30 years. He said there needed to be more portability since people entering the workforce now will change jobs 10 to 17 times during their working lives.