For the past decade or so, Goochland officials have met with the county’s general assembly delegation to share information before the next legislative session. This year’s meeting was held on August 5 at the Residence Inn at the Notch in West Creek.
The board of supervisors, most of the school board, the county administrator, school superintendent, and some constitutional officers, attended the session.
Though our current representatives, Lee Ware, 65th District; John McGuire, 56th District, and 22nd District Senator Mark Peake were redistricted out of Goochland last year, they will still represent us in the 2023 session. The entire General Assembly stands for election in November 2023. This fall, we vote only for Congressional representatives.
|(ltr) John McGuire, Mark Peake, Lee Ware, Vic Carpenter|
Each year the county and school division compile “legislative agendas” outlining their views on issues that may come before the general assembly. The final versions will be refined and adopted by the county and the schools later in the year.
Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities like Goochland have only those powers given to them by the state legislature. Each year, thousands of bills are introduced in the General Assembly, with only a fraction working through the process to become law. As legislators wade through this volume of proposed bills, it is vital for them to understand how a particular bill could either help or harm their constituents. Goochland, thanks to the efforts of Community Affairs Manager Paul Drumwright, and County Attorney Tara McGee, keeps in close touch with our delegation during the session to ensure they are aware of our views on proposed laws and unintended consequences.
Honoring their pledge to stay on top of infrastructure needed to mitigate traffic issues created by the recently approved “Project Rocky,” the first item on the Board’s agenda was a request for assistance to secure state funding for the second bridge over I64 at Ashland Road. “The governor has been very supportive of this,” Board Chair Neil Spoonhower, District 2, said. “This will help us to keep most of Goochland rural.”
Ware was pleased to learn that the county had already submitted a “Smart Scale” application to VDOT for this. He said that the state currently has a surfeit of cash, some is under state control, some is federal dollars with strings attached. That money is being put to the best use, including refilling the “rainy day” fund; reducing unfunded pension liability; increasing pay for law enforcement officers and the state portion of teacher compensation; and increased mental health funding.
Peak said, “the state has a ton of money, but it’s not real dollars.” Inflation, he contended, will eat up any gains, and predicted that cuts may be necessary down the road to compensate.
McGuire said that he was pleased that more funds were spent on education as well as training and equipment for law enforcement agencies and funding for school resource officers for two years.
Peake and McGuire, who has already announced his 2023 candidacy for the 10th District state sensate seat, which includes all of Goochland, said that the next session will probably focus on social issues. This is no surprise as they garner the most media attention.
McGuire said that with divided government—Democrats control the state senate, Republicans, the house of delegates—matters don’t go too far to one side. He said that it is impossible for any legislator to be informed on thousands of bills. “The more you educate us on what’s important to you, the more we can help.” He also said that “crossing the aisle” to work with legislators from the other party is vital to getting bills passed.
Concern about local control over marijuana establishments was at the top of the county list, including the request for a referendum on retail sales. District 1 Supervisor Susan Lascolette said Goochland does not want this “pushed” on the county, but wants to be able to opt in.
Marijuana was one of the most contentious issues last year, said Ware. “Different priorities limited what we could do.”
Election integrity was the next topic. McGuire contended that there is 77 percent approval for a voter ID bill, but whenever legislation is introduced to implement it, opponents contend that enables voter suppression and is racist. He raised concerns about ballot drop boxes. In Goochland, these are located inside the registrar’s office and monitored.
The cost of who pays for social security verification and extra voting time is a perennial issue. “It is incumbent on us (the GA) to come up with the cash when putting extra voting requirements on localities,” said Ware. Currently, localities foot the voting bill, including the cost of party primaries.
Peake said that 45 days for early voting is “nuts”. “Two weeks is all you need before an election.” He said that the time lapse between the start of early voting and counting ballots adds extra work to election officials to verify that those who cast ballots are still eligible to vote on election day. People can die or move in the interim.
Unfunded mandates—when the state requires localities to do something without funding—are a perennial concern for Goochland. They increase the county’s cost of doing business. District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson said that the Dillon Rule gives localities little control over revenue and taxes. This restriction on localities’ ability to raise revenue could legislate bankruptcy if the GA is not careful, he said.
Ware, a former Powhatan supervisor, is one of the few members of the General Assembly with local government experience. He knows first hand the impact an unfunded decree from Richmond can have on local government budgets.
The supervisors request a compensation board funding study for Constitutional Officers. The state pays a portion of these salaries, but that amount has seriously dwindled over the years.
Peake lamented the lack of transparency in the state budget process. “It’s all done by three people. When it comes up, all we can do is vote for or against it.”
The Schools Division’s list echoed the county’s call for more local control.
Superintendent Jeremy Raley Ed. D. announced that county schools are fully staffed two weeks before opening day. This, said Raley, is the result of the hard work by all of Team Goochland to create a welcoming work environment and fiscal support from the county.
Building on the excellent work being done by the Career and Technical Education Department, schools support legislation to establish tax credits for businesses that provide career development opportunities for students.
Karen Horn, District 3 School Board member opposed collective bargaining contending that it can be very costly. “We don’t need to pay a mediator; we talk directly to our staff.” Schools support repeal of this legislation.
District 2 School Board member Angela Allen said that Goochland has something special in its school division and needs to protect it from state overreach. “We know what is best for our school division.” The schools would like a reduction in the number and type of Standard of Learning assessments.
Wendy Hobbs commended McGuire for his willingness to “cross the aisle” to pass legislation. All members of the General Assembly, Hobbs contended, should work together for the benefit of citizens.
Ben Slone welcomed the delegation’s support for funding road improvements for Project Rocky. He also pointed about that Goochland needs help with VDOT and rural transportation even without new development and that we have no control over other local roads.
Sheriff Steven Creasey said that he has been working with Raley to place School Resource Officers in every school. “Our citizens expect to have SROs in every school, and they deserve the best we can give them,” said Creasey.
Governing is a complicated business. Open lines of communication between Goochland and Richmond is vital.