Incoming Va. House speaker makes top committee picks
By Laura Vozzella November 14, 2019 at 1:20 p.m. EST
RICHMOND — The incoming speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday announced her picks to lead four key legislative committees, with choices that reflect the racial, gender and geographic diversity of the Democratic caucus that will take control of the chamber in January.
For the four committee chiefs, Speaker-designee Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) chose three African Americans, three women and two delegates who hail from regions outside affluent Northern Virginia, which will now have the largest delegation in Richmond.
Some delegates voiced a need for greater geographic diversity in leadership after Filler-Corn and two other Northern Virginians won the top three posts in caucus elections Saturday. Del. Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria) will be the new majority leader, becoming the first woman and the first African American to serve in that post. Del. Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan Jr. (Fairfax) will be caucus chairman.
To lead the key committees, Filler-Corn turned to four veteran legislators — no surprise given the role seniority typically plays in the chamber, but something that could rankle newer, more progressive delegates who have bucked the notion that they should wait their turn before assuming leadership roles.
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Filler-Corn appointed Del. Luke E. Torian (D-Prince William) chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee; Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) chairwoman of the Finance Committee; Del. Jeion A. Ward (D-Hampton) chairwoman of the Commerce and Labor Committee; and Del. Roslyn C. Tyler (D-Sussex) chairwoman of the Education Committee.
“These impressive leaders will be important allies as we shape our policy agenda for the Commonwealth in 2020 and beyond,” Filler-Corn said in a written statement. “Each of these delegates brings a great deal of experience, both in and out of the legislature, which will contribute to our work to make our schools better, our communities stronger and our economy thriving and fair.”
Filler-Corn announced the selections 10 days after Democrats flipped the House and state Senate in an election that gives the party — already in possession of the governor’s mansion — full control of state government for the first time in a generation. Democrats picked up six seats in the House, giving them a 55-to-45 advantage. They flipped two seats in the Senate, resulting in a 21-to-19 edge.
On Saturday, the incoming Democratic caucus designated Filler-Corn to become speaker in a closed-door meeting. The choice will not be official until the full House convenes and votes on it in January. Filler-Corn will be the first woman and first Jewish person to hold that post in the House’s 400-year history.
It has been decades since an African American has led a House committee. Then-Del. William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk) chaired the Transportation Committee in 1998 and was co-chairman of the panel in 1998, according to House Clerk G. Paul Nardo.
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Republican House leaders previously appointed Torian to the Appropriations Committee and made him chairman of a subcommittee. He was first elected in 2009.
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Watts first served in the House from 1982 to 1985, leaving to become the state’s transportation secretary from 1986 to 1990. She returned to the House after winning reelection in 1995. Ward was first elected in 2003 and Tyler in 2005.
As Democrats take control of Senate Finance Committee, both parties pledge bipartisanship
HARRISONBURG — As Republicans prepare to hand over control of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee to Democrats next year, members of both parties said they hoped they would retain a commitment to working in a bipartisan manner on the commonwealth’s money issues.
“What also won’t change is how we’re going to act as a collegial committee,” Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, told her Senate colleagues on Friday during the committee’s annual retreat in Harrisonburg.
Howell is taking over the reigns from Sens. Thomas Norment, R-James City, and Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, next year after Republicans lost their majority in the Senate in November. Democrats similarly flipped control of the House of Delegates.
“I think we will make an effort to work forward collegially and come up with an excellent budget,” said Norment, who joined the Senate in 1992, as did Howell.
The chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee is a powerful position, allowing the leader to reach into most aspects of state government operations through shaping the state budget.
Howell said she would continue to prioritize having a balanced budget and maintaining Virginia’s triple-A bond ratings.
Norment urged his Democratic colleagues to exercise caution as they prepare to take over the committee.
Charles Kennington, a legislative fiscal analyst, told senators that while Virginia’s economy is doing well, they should be prepared for a possible slowdown ahead.
In preparation for the upcoming legislative session, the senators met for two days to hear presentations about the commonwealth’s economic outlook, K-12 and higher education, transportation and Virginia’s expanded Medicaid program.
Gov. Ralph Northam will propose a new two-year budget Dec. 17.
Virginia has taken several steps over the years to capture more revenue for transportation projects, but Senate Finance staff said the funding problem persists.
Major revenue sources include retail sales and use taxes, motor vehicle sales, motor fuels taxes and motor vehicle license fees. There are also interstate funding programs that use tolls and regional taxes.
For instance, the most contentious transportation issue earlier this year among legislators was creating a funding mechanism for Interstate 81.
In the past couple of years, coinciding with the rollout of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, vehicle miles traveled have increased, but gas tax revenue has declined.
Jason Powell, special projects deputy for the committee, said that 15 states and Washington, D.C., currently tax ride-sharing.
He also noted that of the 26 states that levy an annual license tax on electric vehicles, Virginia charges $64 — the third lowest.
Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, said he’s met many young people who don’t own cars, but use ride-sharing instead.
“The roads are still going to be there, the bridges are still going to be there and in need of repair, and we’re going to have to adjust quickly to changing our funding formulas to deal with a future that I think is going to get here quicker than we think,” said Marsden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“Hopefully you can help address some of that with your new responsibility,” Hanger said.
Each of Virginia’s public colleges and universities froze tuition this year after an amendment to the state’s budget bill set aside more than $52 million as an incentive for doing so.
Senate Finance staff noted, though, that in-state tuition represents 37.5% of the total price to attend.
Other costs include fees, room and board, and books. Total costs increased 2% at Virginia’s public colleges, Sarah Herzog, deputy director of the committee, told senators.
In the past, tuition limits have been followed by tuition increases.
So the legislature will have to figure out how to proceed.
Options include limiting or incentives to limit on tuition and distribution of new state operating support.