Ideas for the Next General Assembly

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The elections this fall brought a philosophical sea change to the General Assembly.  The dynamics have changed.  But critical issues remain and good ideas can hopefully prevail if the goal is to truly improve Virginia in a few critical areas.

Medicaid expansion will be major issue confronting the General Assembly. This program aimed at the most needy and most vulnerable in our society needs to better managed. And reforms that Virginia might bring to that program could become a template for other states. There are a number of creative ideas being discussed. And with an Administration in Washington seemingly willing to move more responsibility for this program to the states, the General Assembly should ask for the authority to truly reform the system. Virginia could ask for the ability to create a better and more efficient program. Many feel that the current Medicaid program could be much more efficient and offer better health care to those who qualify. Virginia could prove this can be done. It should ask for that authority.

Several reforms to the health care system will be outlined in a soon-to-be-published “Handbook on Healthcare Reform” by the Thomas Jefferson Institute.  This Handbook outlines several reforms that can be considered to improve our current healthcare system regardless of what happens to Obamacare down the road.

And just as President Nixon was the right person to “open up China” in the early 1970’s, our incoming Governor would be the ideal person to take the lead in restructuring our antiquated tax system here in Virginia.  This can be done in a revenue neutral manner that can eliminate the remaining tax on groceries, eliminate the bottom two tax brackets (helping those most in need) as well as eliminating the impact of the job destroying gross receipts (BPOL), machine and tool, and merchants capital taxes.  Our tax system needs to reflect today’s service-oriented economy and not the economy that existed in 1971, when the current system was established.

Our growing economy needs a reliable energy supply and getting both major new gas pipelines constructed needs to be a top priority if we are to have the necessary power required in a growing economy.  This can be done in an environmentally sensitive manner.  There are tens of thousands of miles of pipelines in this country and they are a safer way to transport natural gas than by truck or train.

Job training has become a major issue here in Virginia.  There are many jobs that do not need a college degree and these jobs are, in many cases, pretty well paid.  Let’s focus on developing these jobs.  One way to do that is to bring a serious analysis to those state funded job training programs that exist today.  There are some 22 or more government job training programs today.   How much per graduate do these programs cost?  How many graduates of these programs actually secure a job and have that same job three months later?  Once we have those numbers, then the least effective programs can be eliminated and those funds put into the more effective ones.

Continued expansion of our road network is needed if we are to try to relieve the congestion in the major population centers of our state – most particularly Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.  How to do that and the costs need to be carefully considered.  Ten years or so ago, the Reason Foundation did a fascinating study about the road network that needs to be built over a twenty year period to confront the projected population increases we face.  This study outlined the road “skeleton” that could be built and where it is needed.  The idea is simple:  built the major skeleton that is needed – the major highways – and commit to get this done and commit the money over those years that will be prioritized in the state budget.  Then, if and when more money is available at the state and local level, build the connecting roads needed.  This is a good idea if we want to stay ahead of the population increases and not always be playing “catch up.”  A long term transportation plan focused on the major road requirements, properly funded, makes a lot of sense.  And the budget projected by Reason to get this done was quite reasonable.

Finally, there are at least two “Bernie Sanders” ideas that could well come up that need to be defeated if Virginia is going to truly grow our economy and encourage folks to move to Virginia.

One is the idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage. That will deny young, new-to-the-job- market employees from getting that first step on the ladder toward a better future.   Automated food ordering in some fast food establishments is just one example of what will happen more quickly with a minimum wage that employers simply cannot afford for entry level jobs.

And the other “Bernie Sanders idea” is “free” community college education.  Of course, there is no such thing as “free education” as everyone knows who pays property taxes in this state.  Much of those taxes on our homes and apartments go to “free” K-12 public education.  And if community college education is “free” it only means that our taxes will have to be significantly increased in order to pay for this new entitlement.

Our state legislature convenes next month and our new Governor will be sworn-in soon afterwards.  In the General Assembly’s two month “long session” a lot of bills will be considered.  How our elected leaders handle these ideas and others will help determine what our states looks like in a few short years.

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About Mike Thompson

Michael Thompson is currently the Chairman and President of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, the state’s premier independent public policy foundation that has gained broad based respect from political and business leaders throughout Virginia. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Thomas Jefferson Institute or its Board of Directors.

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