BY BARRY KNIGHT
BACK BAY — It is an honor to serve the 81st District of the Virginia General Assembly.
Our 2017 Legislative Session came to a close on Saturday, Feb. 25. We have a short session in odd years such as this one. Virginia sets a budget every two years. This year was the second year of the budget, and we assessed our income and made amendments to ensure we balance our books.
This year, we were faced with a budget shortfall of $1.26 billion, so my work while sitting on the House Appropriations Committee was extremely important to keep the commonwealth on track to have a sound checkbook while also ensuring government necessities were funded properly.
We pride ourselves on practicing fiscal responsibility. In doing so, we always place money to the side every year for our rainy day fund. We were able to use this to help alleviate the harsh budget shortfall.
Appropriating funds after a tough economic year, which resulted in the low income for the state, isn’t easy. Even so, we had to recognize that many first responders employed by the state have not received a raise in many years. It was our goal to get them that raise because someone protecting our communities shouldn’t have to push pennies just to make ends meet.
I am happy to say we were able to secure a $6,700 raise for Virginia State Police.
We cannot forget about the teachers. Over the last few years, we were able to pass a pay raise for teachers. Unfortunately, due to hard economic times, many cities were not able to match the pay raise so they could not accept the money.
Last year we passed a raise that was contingent on the tax revenue we were able to receive. The budget shortfall did not allow us to perpetuate that plan for teacher raises across the board. We buckled down to see what, if anything, can be done because teachers mold the future of the commonwealth by educating our youth.
We concluded that we were able to give a one-time, no-strings-attached lump sum to the school districts with the intent that it would go toward teacher income. This is not the ideal solution we were hoping for, but it gives school districts a chance to retain funds without having the locality be forced to match it.
We also believe that the school districts will know how to better spend the money in areas that are needed for that district. Our hope is that these actions will ease the financial burdens on superintendents across Virginia and aid our teachers in the process.
Our community has the highest population of active and retired military men and women in the nation. It is imperative that we take care of them when they return from overseas.
Over the last few years the General Assembly worked in a bipartisan fashion to establish a Veterans Care Center, for which the City of Virginia Beach graciously donated land.
We are moving forward with the plans without the federal government’s financial help.
We know the federal government will not always live up to their word, so we as Virginians must take care of our veterans as a duty to them and their service. Private funding through the Veteran Service Foundation is a way that you can directly help veterans through Virginia.
Unfortunately, over the past several years the foundation and the Department of Veteran Services seemed to have overlapped too much for comfort. We want to make sure all privately donated funds go directly toward the benefit of our veterans and do not end up being spent on bureaucrats.
This is why I introduced a bill [HB2148] enforcing the complete separation of the foundation and the department and ensured all private funds benefit our commonwealth’s veterans.
I will also continue to serve on the Oceana Land Use Conformity Committee board to ensure Virginia Beach and Chesapeake work hand in hand to ensure our military assets remain entrenched in our region.
I believe the commonwealth’s natural resources should be used responsibly. This is why I fought to keep funds associated with logging. The forestry industry is prevalent throughout Virginia. Therefore, I restored funds self-raised by the industry to promote best management practices, often referred to as BMPs, and restored funds that incentivize reforestation. On average, for every tree cut down, two more are planted. This policy brings a conservation approach that keeps Virginia forests green.
In addition, I believe the resources underwater are important as well, which is why I have taken the lead on the menhaden battle. I also restored funding derived from fishing license fees. These funds were assessed by the industry to promote Virginia anglers and citation awards.
I also wanted to ensure the residents of Sandbridge were able to remove the mounds of sand that pile up against their house, pools and fences. Prior to the passing of a bill I introduced [HB1517], residents had to go through a long and costly process.
This bill cut the red tape and allowed the citizens of Sandbridge to apply for one permit to the wetlands board and streamline the process while lowering the cost. Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander liked the idea so much that the city asked me to include Norfolk beaches.
Farmers are now able to have an increased weight on their truck of up to 90,000 pounds when leaving the fields to their primary stop such as a granary due to my legislation [HB1519]. This will allow farmers to haul more crops from the field, decreasing the time and the fuel costs for harvesting. The Virginia farmer will be able to speed up the harvesting process to avoid troublesome weather that might be on its way.
We have accomplished a great deal for both our community and the commonwealth, but the work is never done. As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions, and concerns.
I am proud to be a Virginian and honored to have the opportunity to serve you. Together we can keep Virginia as one of the best places to live, work and raise a family.
Knight, a retired farmer, has represented the 81st House District in the Virginia General Assembly since 2009. His district includes much of the southern reaches of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Constituents can contact him via (757) 426-6387 or email@example.com. His personal website is barrydknight.com.
Bills from the 2017 session and past sessions can be read at Virginia’s Legislative Information System via lis.virginia.gov.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC/Letter used with permission