2009 legislative session opens with slate of pressing issues

By Jola Szubielski - bio | email

Posted by Colby RogersRICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia lawmakers reconvened Wednesday with a full slate of proposals for the 2009 legislative session.

Each year, the session kicks off with the Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast. This year there were plenty of jokes and laughter, there was also the realization of the huge task before them.

The $3 billion state budget shortfall is no doubt the thorniest issue initially facing lawmakers.

"I'm anticipating there will be considerable angst," said Delegate Harvey Morgan of the 98th District. "It's going to be so difficult to preserve the critical services."

"When you don't have money and when you're cutting services, you're cutting the people who need the services most," said Sen. Yvonne Miller of the 5th District," and that's going to be very difficult."

Gov. Tim Kaine has proposed slashing more that 1,000 state jobs and cutting spending to close the gap. Even education funding - which in previous years remained untouched - has not been spared under Kaine's proposals.

"It'll probably take them a while to kick the tires on it and debate it," Kaine said, "but we shouldn't control the growth of teachers and not admin personnel because, frankly, it's the teachers that are nost important."

In addition to cutting $400 million of Medicaid funding, Kaine is looking to double the 30 cents per-pack cigarette tax - a proposal that may bring the most resistance from the House.

Transportation is also at the forefront in the discussion.  Senator Yvonne Miller says she's is not optimistic there is a solution for the transportation crisis and failing infrastructure.

"Unless the citizens rise up and say 'we don't want this cut and that cut' and whatever is necessary, you need to do it - to do something about transpiration - then it will be done," Miller said. "Otherwise, I'm not that optimistic."

The controversial "gun show loophole" is also on the table. After the Crime Commission failed to recommend closing it Tuesday, the overall feeling is that the issue will likely be tabled by the General Assembly again this year.

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