Vogel reports on Assembly’s successes

Posted: September 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel,R-Upperville

WINCHESTER — The state’s 2013 General Assembly session was remarkable for its bipartisan compromise and efficiency, Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, told the Kiwanis Club of Winchester on Wednesday. But, she said, her federal counterparts have lost touch with those they represent.

Vogel was at the club’s weekly meeting at the Best Western Lee-Jackson Inn and Conference Center. Now in her second term, she represents Winchester, the counties of Frederick, Clarke and Fauquier, and parts of Culpeper, Loudoun and Stafford counties.

She said businesses are flocking to Virginia from other states because the legislature has set the commonwealth up to be fiscally responsible, and to pay as it goes.

In this year’s 45-day legislative session, 2,300 bills were considered, she said.

The transportation funding package was a major accomplishment, coming after 27 years of not addressing that issue.

“Transportation, we did it this year,” Vogel said.

Virginia had been ranked the No. 1 state for business by CNBC in 2007, 2009 and 2011. It slipped to No. 3 last year, the same year it was ranked the worst state for traffic congestion, Vogel noted.

“That’s worse than L.A., worse than New York, worse than Chicago, worse than any place,” she said.

Businesses were leaving because they couldn’t efficiently move goods and services around, and the government wasn’t addressing the issue, Vogel said.

The transportation package will bring in $3.5 billion in five years through changes to the gas tax, and increases to the personal property and sales taxes, she said.

It was controversial, and while she voted for it early on, she didn’t vote for the final bill, Vogel said. But it was an important compromise, she said.

“The fact that after 27 years we did something alone was a very, very big thing,” Vogel said.

Another major issue is the Affordable Care Act. If the state moves forward with it, it would add 300,000 people to the Medicaid roles, Vogel said.

“The issue is, for the Commonwealth of Virginia, that we really can’t afford that,” she said.

Many of the people who would be added to Medicaid already have private insurance, according to Vogel.

But, if Virginia doesn’t sign on, it will end up forfeiting $9.9 billion to other states, she said.

“This is a very delicate balance,” Vogel said.

What happens in Virginia regarding transportation, health care and education will largely be determined by this year’s statewide elections, she told the Kiwanis club members.

“It’s an important time,” she said.

A positive that emerged this year was the biggest budget surplus the state has ever had, she said.

“Virginia has a very, very important thing that we do — that’s we do not budget more than we have,” she said.

Vogel took several questions from the audience.

“I’m concerned about education,” said Reid Hoak III. “I think sometimes, talking to some students that are gifted, they’re held back more today than they used to be.”

Students would be better served if local divisions made their own decisions, rather than having them made at the state or federal level, Vogel said.

“Teachers know what’s best,” she said.

She said the General Assembly has been working on giving more latitude to localities, and making sure teachers earn a good salary.

“The No. 1 correlation to student success is quality teachers,” Vogel said.

Vernon Marsteller asked Vogel, “You’ve done a good job for the state of Virginia. Do you have any suggestions for the federal government?”

Vogel said there is a difference between state and national legislators.

“My frustration with Congress is there are so many layers between Congress and us that it’s very easy for them to lose perspective, lose sight of what their communities think,” she said. “It seems to be that Congress has almost collapsed under its own weight and has lost its way.”

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com