Lt. Governor Bill Bolling was quick to issue a statement as soon as the mid-term elections confirmed the senate would divide evenly between Republicans and Democrats. “With the chamber equally divided at 20-20, it will fall on me to cast the deciding vote on many important issues in the months to come. I assure you that I will do so with the utmost respect for the responsibility given me by the Constitution of Virginia.”
Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-8) shed some light on what all this means so far.
Habeeb thought Bolling would not have to break as many ties as people think. “There are usually a group of Democrats who vote with the Republicans … at least [ties] won’t be an everyday thing,” he said in a phone interview. Democratic control had let to committee assignments that kept Republican sponsored bills from floor votes.
On education Habeeb sees a bipartisan momentum to reform public education. School choice and charter school programs are taking hold in states like New Jersey. “The tide is already moving in that direction,” he said
In the 2011 session a bill giving tax credits to businesses providing private school scholarships to low-income students was blocked in the senate. The Virginia Education Association opposed it for fear of losing funding for public schools. Habeeb thinks everyone will come around to it “once they see who this bill targets and who this bill helps.” Habeeb predicts that a slightly more aggressive school choice bill will pass in the 2012 session.
Support for monetary incentives for top teachers is gaining ground as is “moving away from the one size fits all model,” said Habeeb. This would sow the seeds for creative teaching and the use of best teaching methods. He expects the Governor to focus on higher education again this year. “I think we’ll see the same kind of focus this year at the K-12 level,” he said.
He admits that the Standards of Learning has tied teachers hands to some extent – “The tail wagging the dog” as he put it. “The SOLs have provided a way to target resources … but have disincentivized teachers to move away from just teaching to the test.” He would take into consideration the SOLs in the overall reevaluation of K-12 education.
He posed the question – “what obstacles are getting in the way of [us having] the best public education system in the world.” As the father of three young children he said, “it’s a kid issue not a partisan issue.”
Habeeb would like to see outdated and complicated business tax credit code cleaned up. Though it creates economic incentives “… it’s like we’re picking winners and losers to certain industries to the detriment of others.”
He expects that the bill to opt-in to a defined benefit plan in lieu of the Virginia Retirement System to come up again for new state employees this session. The only group to oppose it said Habeeb was the VEA. He emphasized that it was an option and not a mandate.
“We can’t do anything to risk the viability of [VRS] going forward for those in the system already.”
The budget this year will be the real challenge. Medicaid, pensions, health and human services, transportation and education – “that’s almost all of our budget,” said Habeeb. “You can pick around the edges … and discretionary spending is just a small percentage of the budget”
Habeeb said any immigration bills introduced would probably be targeted toward the e-verify system that employers use to verify an employee’s legal work status.
“Largely we have scapegoated the immigrants and have not spent a whole lot of time talking about businesses that have facilitated the immigration issue … those that have turned a blind eye,” he said. While addressing immigrant there needs to be a discussion on “what in our economic system is incentivizing this conduct.” Both workers and companies need to live by the law.
The bill that failed in 2011 would have required children of illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state college tuition in Virginia. Habeeb thought it was not fair that resources to legal residents were being diverted to someone that was in the country illegally. “The conversation at the federal level has been so disruptive … we’ve not advanced the ball any,” he said.
He lamented on how foreign students educated in America are not allowed to use that education here. “It’s a very complicated issue to not look at it globally,” he said.
He thought the hand wringing over what will happen with the Republicans in charge was unwarranted. The legislators in Virginia’s Western Region are not talking about the “hot-button issues … jobs and education is all they’re talking about.”
After the legislative meetings legislators will begin to draft bills. Habeeb has a couple bills he wants to introduce that he wasn’t ready to reveal publicly. Habeeb will be holding office hours to hear from constituents on Thursday November 17 at his office.