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Movie Star Tax Credits, A Gay Judge and the Session Ends

A summary of the 2012 legislative session.

Well, it’s over. The 2012 General Assembly ended on May 15, 2012 at 2:00 a.m. after a 13-hour House of Delegates’ session involving 117 of Governor Bob McDonnell’s amendments and the election of 40 judges. It was a fitting end to a very contentious session.

The day was not without controversy. This year, we authorized a bonus and raises for state employees for the first time in five years to be funded with unanticipated revenues.  These state employees include state troopers, corrections employees and people who work for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), Department of Transportation (VDOT), judges, court clerks, game wardens, and colleges. On a zero to 95 vote, the House of Delegates rejected the Governor’s proposal to allow raises only if employees could find millions of dollars of cuts in 45 days.

The Governor also proposed to increase funding for Virginia’s Movie Production Tax Credit by $2 million first enacted during my first session in 2010. I had serious concerns about enacting a $4 million tax credit program for Hollywood movie producers during the most serious budget crisis since the Great Depression. In 2011, Virginia gave over $5 million in tax credits and in-kind services to billionaire Steven Spielberg as part of the production of the movie “Lincoln” in Richmond.  I voted against and spoke against this gift to Hollywood. 

The House of Delegates defeated over 20 of the Governor’s amendments. The Governor withdrew a proposal to cut services by $2.5 million to agencies that assist the elderly after a public outcry. We also rejected a measure to undermine programs which provide supplemental education funding to Northern Virginia because of our higher  cost of living.

The Governor also proposed an additional $2 million to promote third- grade reading proficiency, but he added a whole series of reporting requirements to the bill. Because of the state funding formula, Fairfax County stood to gain $100,000 and a massive set of new reporting requirements. I moved to sever the funding from the reports.  The funding  passed 91-3 and the reporting requirements were rejected on a 50-45 vote after my motion.

Unfortunately, one of our last acts was the rejection of an openly gay prosecutor for a General District Court judgeship. Mr. Tracy Thorne-Beglund has prosecuted criminals for twelve years including supervising Richmond’s murder docket. By all accounts, he was a decorated and honorably discharged naval aviator and a stellar prosecutor. Several members argued that he was unqualified because he revealed he was gay over ten years ago while serving in the U.S. Navy and was a leader in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  No objection was raised to his appointment until last week. Only 32 of 100 delegates voted to elect him including me.  

        The 2012 session is now over, albeit sixty days late and with a whole new level of partisanship.  While this has been common in Washington, D.C., the General Assembly has traditionally been more bipartisan.  Although House of Delegates has been passing bills mandating transvaginal ultrasounds and banning contraception in almost every session since I was elected, the media is finally paying attention. So are others. As I wrote this column on the floor of the House, the Family Foundation’s three representatives were the only people in the Chamber balcony late at night exerting quiet pressure before our vote on judgeships. 

We consumed entirely too much “legislative oxygen” this session debating contentious social issues. Next year, I hope to spend more time working to fund secondary education, reduce the cost of higher education, secure the future of our safety net, bringing Virginia’s tax system up to speed with the 21st Century economy and permanently addressing transportation.

As always, if you have any questions, would like me to speak to your community group or civic association or if you have any feedback, please send me a note at scottsurovell@gmail.com. And be sure to read my online newsletter, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.

The 44th District is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. I continue to work hard to keep it that way. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.

Isle D Belle May 16, 2012 at 02:48 PM
'Several members argued that he was unqualified because he revealed he was gay over ten years ago while serving in the U.S. Navy and was a leader in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” ' Blantant discrimination - more shameful and ignorant conduct by our legislators. You will all make it into the history books as fools who violated their own constitution. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Scott Surovell May 16, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I supported him. I thought it was blatant bigotry. I was dumbfounded we were even having a debate about it.
Jody May 17, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Aren't our public employee pension funds underfunded as in so many other states?
Scott Surovell July 05, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Yes. It depends on how you calculate, but it was estimated that we were underfunded by about $15-20 billion.
Jody July 06, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Anyone worried about that? We shouldn't be playing the stock market to fund our public employee defined benefit plans.

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