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(2016) Update on the Budget and Virginia Supreme Court

As we approach the end of the 2016 session , I want to report to you on both the final budget and the selection of a Supreme Court justice.  The budget is something I am proud to be associated with.  The Supreme Court debacle is a disgrace.

Budget:

We completed the balanced budget on time and without "gimmicks."  We were very fortunate that with the improving economy we had more funding available for pressing needs.  The Governor presented us  a structurally sound budget proposal to work with, which had a strong emphasis on education and economic development.  Both the Senate and House then improved it with our own priorities.  We budget conferees then reconciled the differences.

The topic on which I received the most comments was public education.  My constituents have been rightly concerned about the decline in state support. This year we are sending additional funds to localities.

For example, Fairfax County will receive $30 million more in FY2017 than in FY2016.  Arlington will receive about $4.9 million more. Significantly, both jurisdictions received cost to compete funding for support personnel both years. Starting December 1, 2016, the state will fund its share of a two percent raise for teachers.

An excellent resource for you to dig deeper into the budget is the Senate Finance Committee Overview of the Conference Report.  It outlines all the major changes to the budget. For those who like more detail, the complete conference report can be found here.

We had new chairmen of Senate Finance this year.  Sen. Emmett Hanger and Sen. Tommy Norment did an excellent job directing the process and setting priorities.  I can't begin to tell you how complex, controversial, and tense it is to manage the budget in sixty days.  They both deserve medals!

Supreme Court Judge Selection:

I am in mourning over what has happened over the past eight months to a highly qualified jurist and to our process for selecting Supreme Court members.  It is a tragedy and a travesty.

Justice Jane Roush served with distinction on the Fairfax Circuit Court bench since 1992.  Last summer Governor McAuliffe went through an extensive process and selected her. She was totally vetted.  A press leak resulted in her name being public before certain self-important legislative leaders were called about the selection.  No one had any objection to the judge, just to the failure of notification.

For months the battle has raged.  Governor McAuliffe appointed her as a recess appointment to the Supreme Court where all agree she served with distinction.  All session the battle has raged in the halls of the Capitol. The Republicans could not get the constitutionally required 21 votes in the Senate to elect anyone.

The most outrageous moment was Tuesday when Ken Cuccinelli's name was put forward.  After public outrage, he was quickly replaced with Stephen R. McCullough.  Justice McCullough was elected with the minimum required 21 votes a few hours later.

Stark partisan pique resulted in removing a supremely qualified woman from the bench and replacing her with an unvetted man whose name wasn't even mentioned twenty four hours before his election. In their haste, the Senate Republicans didn't even interview him. He may be a good selection; he may be a dreadful selection.  We have had no opportunity to determine one way or another.

This is going to have a long term negative impact on the bench.  Who of real quality would put themselves through such an unfair, partisan ordeal to become a judge?  How do we stop the slide to partisan selection of judges?  Are we really becoming like Washington, D.C.?

I shudder to contemplate future judge selections.