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New House panel formed to shepherd Amazon package through assembly

New House panel formed to shepherd Amazon package through assembly

Posted by on Jan 17, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times Dispatch, January 15, 2019

As Amazon’s plan for a new headquarters in Arlington County moves from vision to reality, a new House Appropriations subcommittee has formed to shepherd a proposed package of state commitments through the General Assembly to ensure Virginia lives up to its promises, especially in developing a higher education pipeline for high-tech talent.

Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, will chair the five-member subcommittee that he is appointing to oversee the implementation of a $1.85 billion incentive package for the $2.5 billion Amazon headquarters, which must create at least 25,000 high-paying jobs for the money.

“This is to make sure we get it right,” said Jones. He also is carrying one piece of legislation to create a new state fund for $550 million in cash incentives that Virginia would begin to pay four years after the jobs are created and begin to generate new income tax revenue for the state.

Most of the package, about $1.1 billion over the next 20 years, represents broad investments in Virginia colleges and universities to produce 25,000 to 35,000 degrees in computer science and related fields for Amazon and other high-tech companies that need highly skilled talent to grow.

“It’s bigger than Amazon,” Jones said.

The higher education package would include more than $700 million in funding for production of bachelor’s degrees, most of them at institutions outside of Northern Virginia, as well as up to $375 million for master’s degree programs that Virginia Tech and George Mason University would establish in the region around Amazon.

The state’s higher education commitments are not part of its written agreement with Amazon, but would be guided by proposed legislation to create the “Tech Talent Investment Program and Fund.” The legislation has been introduced by Del. Nick Rush, R-Montgomery, and Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg.

Ruff also has introduced legislation, as a companion bill to Jones’ measure, to create the “Major Headquarters Work Force Grant Program” for cash incentives, potentially including an additional $200 million if Amazon creates an additional 12,850 jobs at the National Landing site at Crystal City in Arlington.

In addition to Jones, the new subcommittee will include Rush, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on higher education; Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, chairman of the capital outlay subcommittee; Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, chairman of the economic development subcommittee; and Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, vice chairman of the full committee.

Jones, Landes and Rush also are members of the Major Employment Investment Committee that vetted the Amazon deal for the legislature, as is Ruff.

The budget that Gov. Ralph Northam introduced last month includes $8.3 million as an initial state investment in the tech talent pipeline, but Jones said he expects the state to require “significantly more” to enable participating colleges and universities to establish and expand degree programs in the desired fields.

“The universities are going to need to present plans that deliver so many degrees, at an affordable cost, in a reasonable time frame,” he said.

The state already included $28 million in the two-year budget adopted last year, before Amazon chose the Arlington site, to boost production of degrees in high-tech fields at public colleges and universities.

Northam also included Virginia Tech’s proposed $1 billion “Innovation Campus” for master’s degrees in the capital budget, which would require $250 million in state money that the university would match while raising an additional $500 million from various non-state sources to pay for the project in the Potomac Yard area of Alexandria.

The package the state unveiled in mid-November also includes $125 million in state money that George Mason would match to expand its master’s degree programs and facilities in Arlington.

Virginia’s commitment to boosting higher education development of high-tech talent was a decisive factor in Amazon’s decision to choose Arlington as one half of its much-ballyhooed $5 billion plan to build a second headquarters. Long Island City, N.Y., was chosen for the second location.

“It’s clear they ultimately weighed talent far greater than cost,” Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said in a presentation on Monday to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Moret said the Amazon deal would generate an additional $3.8 billion in gross state revenues over 20 years, before considering incentives and other state costs for educating children of new employees. The jobs it creates must pay at least $150,000 a year on average and no more than 10 percent can rely on federal government funding.

“It’s a big diversification opportunity,” he told SCHEV.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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Appropriations chairman won’t consider $1.2 billion tax windfall in budget until Northam, lawmakers reach tax policy deal

Appropriations chairman won’t consider $1.2 billion tax windfall in budget until Northam, lawmakers reach tax policy deal

Posted by on Jan 14, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times Dispatch, January 9, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee quickly dismissed Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to spend $1.2 billion in “limited time” revenues from federal tax reform without first reaching an agreement with the General Assembly on state tax policy.

Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, opened the committee’s first meeting of the legislative session on Wednesday by declaring that the House won’t consider the so-called windfall as it prepares its own version of the budget over the next 3½ weeks.

“In fairness to the process, we’re not Washington, D.C., we’re Richmond, so we cannot assume revenues that we do not have,” Jones said.

If the legislature reaches an agreement with Northam on tax policy before the committee acts on the budget Feb. 3, he added, “we will, in fact, make adjustments.”

That means the committee will have, at most, about $950 million in new revenue and projected savings to spend, with about half already devoted to filling a $462.5 million shortfall in the Medicaid program that emerged in early November because of a faulty forecast.

“It’s not an easy exercise,” Jones said at the end of the two-hour budget briefing, “but we have to play it where it lies.”

Solving the impasse over tax policy also won’t be easy: Some taxpayers are likely to face higher state taxes this year because of changes in federal tax policy in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed in late 2017.

The heart of the debate is whether the state should spend that extra money or find a way to give it back to taxpayers.

Jones and other House leaders made clear last week that they will seek changes in state policy to allow taxpayers to itemize deductions on their state tax returns even if they claim the standard deduction that the Trump tax cuts doubled at the federal level.

If they don’t, taxpayers who benefit on their federal returns might give savings back to the state, which expects a $594.2 million increase in the first year and $611.1 million in the second, primarily from provisions of the federal tax law for individual taxpayers that will expire after 2024. The business provisions of the tax law are permanent.

The House GOP leadership also proposes to increase the state standard deduction to help taxpayers who don’t itemize their returns, which will compete with a number of other legislative solutions proposed by Republicans and Democrats to adjust the state’s tax policy in the 46-day session that began Wednesday.

Northam served notice in August that he wants to return more than $200 million from the expected windfall to Virginians earning less than $54,000 a year by refunding the portion of the earned income tax credit they don’t use to cover their state tax liability.

The governor then unveiled a series of spending proposals that culminated in his presentation of a revised budget on Dec. 18 that includes plans to spend “limited time” revenues from individual income tax returns to, among other things: bolster the state’s cash reserve; begin a five-year plan for expanding access to broadband telecommunications networks in rural areas; improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay; and jump-start a bipartisan plan to make $2.2 billion in desperately needed improvements to Interstate 81 primarily with toll revenues.

The additional money also freed Northam to propose a number of budget initiatives with recurring revenues, such as an additional 2 percent pay raise for teachers and a 1 percent, one-time bonus for state employees, state-supported local employees and college faculty.

The budget adopted last year already includes a 3 percent raise for teachers, which local school divisions would have to share, and a 2 percent raise for state employees, with an additional 2 percent for merit pay increases.

“When you’ve got $1.2 billion … it gives you a lot of flexibility so you can make a lot of promises to people,” said Jones, who promised after the meeting that the committee would be “looking carefully at all the spending items in his budget.”

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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No time to waste on tax policy as General Assembly convenes for short session

No time to waste on tax policy as General Assembly convenes for short session

Posted by on Jan 14, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times Dispatch, January 5, 2019

The Virginia General Assembly will face a fast start to a short session when it returns to Richmond to tackle the most perilous of issues in an election year: the balance between tax relief and government spending.

A simmering debate over state tax policy finally reached a boil Friday, as Republican leaders in the House of Delegates proposed a plan that targets tax relief for what they call middle-class Virginians — two-income families making between $125,000 and $150,000 — while offering some help to lower-income earners.

The proposal was a challenge to Gov. Ralph Northam, who has proposed to use $1.2 billion in additional state tax revenues from federal tax reforms to help low-income working households and pay for widely sought investments such as improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and expanding access to broadband networks in parts of rural Virginia that lack it.

The timing requires immediate attention if the legislature has any hope of making major tax policy changes available to taxpayers who soon will file state returns for 2018. The assembly also needs immediate clarity to determine how much money it has to spend on its priorities in the state’s two-year budget.

“Until we resolve the tax policy issues, we will be unable to produce a budget,” House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said during a press conference call Friday led by House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

Jones had called publicly for a special session on tax policy last year in response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed in December 2017, but the opportunity was lost in the bitter aftermath of the pitched political battle over Medicaid expansion last spring.

The General Assembly has been in special session ever since, but it hasn’t elected judges or filled a long-vacant seat on the State Corporation Commission, much less tackled comprehensive tax reforms.

“They’re already in special session — we could have done this in November,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said Saturday.

Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, tried to jump-start the debate in September, when he filed a bill that would allow Virginia taxpayers to continue itemizing deductions on their state returns even if they claim the fattened standard deduction on their federal taxes.

The same proposal is the linchpin of the tax plan unveiled by Cox and other House Republican leaders on Friday. It includes an emergency clause so that tax policy changes could benefit taxpayers who will file state returns this spring for their 2018 taxes.

“It was filed September 17 in hopes that it might be part of the Republican conversation, but was never part of any conversation on tax reform by the caucus,” said Bell, who said he will not run for re-election after this year.

Now, with political control of both assembly chambers at stake in next November’s election, legislators will grapple with a choice of whether to spend an unintended state income tax windfall from Trump’s tax bill or give it back to taxpayers.

Or both.

“I want to give some back and invest some,” said Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, second-ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee.

Senate Republican leaders haven’t shown their hand on how they want to play the game, but they generally insist on protecting middle- to upper-income taxpayers who could pay more in state taxes because of the federal law.

“That’s the crux of the session,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. “Virginians will not take advantage of the federal tax reforms unless we make some changes. I think we need to return that money to Virginians and let them spend it.”

But McDougle and other legislators who represent rural areas also want their constituents to have an opportunity to get their share of economic growth through access to high-speed broadband communications networks, especially in light of state incentives for big companies such as Amazon and Micron Technologies to locate or expand operations in Northern Virginia.

In a pre-Christmas spree of budget announcements, Northam proposed a five-year, $250 million investment in broadband — beginning with $50 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. He would pay for it with “limited-time” money from increased state income taxes under new federal tax provisions for individuals that will expire after 2024.

Senate Republicans support the spending priority, but not necessarily the source of money to pay for it.

“You can make some decisions on priorities with current resources, as well,” said McDougle, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “It doesn’t have to be new money.”

Democrats back the governor’s proposal to give about $216 million from the temporary federal tax provisions to low-income taxpayers who qualify for the earned income tax credit, but whose state tax liability isn’t large enough to use the entire amount.

They also think Northam’s proposal to give teachers an additional 2 percent raise — on top of the 3 percent increase they are due to receive in July under the current budget — represents a crucial investment in K-12 education that would be financed by recurring tax revenues that have been growing robustly.

“He would return the money to where the impact is the greatest,” said Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax.

However, Watts is preparing legislation that would raise the state standard deductions to offset the effect of the new federal cap on deducting state and local taxes. It’s a big issue for homeowners in Northern Virginia, where property values and taxes are high, but it’s also part of the House Republican tax plan unveiled on Friday as both parties prepare for suburban political warfare.

“It’s going to be your suburban voter,” said House Appropriations staff director Robert Vaughn.

Those same voters are likely to be the lion’s share of the estimated 600,000 taxpayers whom Republicans expect to pay higher state taxes because they could no longer itemize if, under current Virginia law, they choose to claim the standard deduction on their federal returns, which doubled under the new tax law.

Vaughn predicts those voters will discover their higher state tax liability around February, as they are preparing tax returns for 2018.

“I think that’s when you’re going to hear the racket,” he said.

Decoupling the option of itemizing deductions from conformity with other provisions of the federal tax law is the linchpin of the House Republican tax plan. The legislation will be carried by House Republican Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, one of two GOP delegates remaining in Northern Virginia after a Democratic electoral wave in 2017.

Hugo says the legislation would prevent “a hidden tax increase” that Northam’s budget would use to help lower-income earners and pay for new spending initiatives.

“Our proposal keeps more money in the pockets of Virginians without costing the state one penny,” he said Friday.

However, Layne said House Republicans have significantly underestimated the amount of lost state revenue under their plan, which also would increase the state standard deduction by $1,000 for individual taxpayers and $2,000 for couples.

House Republicans say their plan would reduce state revenues by $441 million in the next fiscal year, almost all of the additional money expected from the tax law’s temporary provisions for individual taxpayers, but the finance secretary says the true cost to the state could be “a couple hundred million dollars” higher than Republicans estimate.

Critics say the plan also would defeat the purpose of conforming state and federal tax definitions by requiring Virginia to create its own system for taxpayers to itemize deductions instead of relying on the IRS to define and police them.

“What do you itemize and who’s going to check up on it?” asked Watts, a member of the House Finance Committee.

The lower-income earners who would benefit under Northam’s proposed budget also make up a growing chunk of the population in suburban districts — more than 23,000 in Chesterfield County and 26,000 in Henrico County — said Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a liberal policy organization that favors a “refund” of the full earned income tax credit due to those who are eligible.

“It ain’t your grandpa’s suburbs anymore,” Cassidy said. “There are a lot of working-class people trying to make ends meet in these suburban districts, which are also swing districts.”

The legislative outlook is further complicated by a competing proposal, introduced in the House by Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, that would double the state’s standard deductions and drop its corporate income tax rate by a percentage point over two years.

Those proposals — which Layne estimated would cost $440 million and $160 million a year, respectively — echo a plan pushed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute, a conservative policy outfit that sponsored a poll which found taxpayers strongly in favor of the state returning the money instead of spending it.

“Hugo’s approach is to try to make everybody whole and go back to where we were before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” said Steve Haner, a former state Republican party official who is a senior fellow at the institute. “Our goal is tax reform.”

“It would give broader tax cuts to millions of people, as opposed to a few hundred thousand,” Haner said.

But trying to address comprehensive tax reforms in a short legislative session “would be folly,” said Jones, the House Appropriations chairman.

The assembly’s failure to address tax policy in special session last year “may have been a wasted opportunity to address Virginia’s tax code,” said Nicole Riley, Virginia director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The NFIB, with 6,000 small-business members in Virginia, prefers doubling the standard deductions as a simpler way to return additional tax revenues to taxpayers, but its biggest concern is immediate conformity between the state and federal tax codes to ensure that the federal law’s business provisions are enacted here.

“We want to see conformity to the federal changes,” said Riley, citing provisions that allow businesses to write off more capital expenses and lowering the tax rate on pass-through income.

House Finance Chairman Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, acknowledged that the House plan falls short of comprehensive tax reforms, but he called it “a good step in tax policy.”

However, Layne said it’s not likely to help taxpayers on their 2018 state returns because the legislation comes too late to enact many of the provisions, particularly for itemizing deductions by taxpayers who take the federal standard deduction.

“There’s no way we can get that done this year,” he said.

Instead, House Republicans propose a one-time deduction that taxpayers could use next year in preparing their 2019 returns — months after the legislative elections.

Jones has not given up hope that the General Assembly and governor could negotiate an agreement that could take effect on an emergency basis, which would require approval by 80 percent of each chamber’s representatives. They would have to act within the first two weeks after the legislature convenes Wednesday.

“We need the governor to come to the table,” he said.

But Haner, who has been involved in General Assembly sessions for more than 30 years, cautioned that “getting an emergency bill passed would require a lot more consensus than anyone expects.”

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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Virginia revenues up more than $550 million for fiscal year, building reserves

Virginia revenues up more than $550 million for fiscal year, building reserves

Posted by on Jul 16, 2018 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times Dispatch, July 12, 2018.

Virginia’s revenue reserves are getting a $550 million boost from soaring income tax collections in the last fiscal year.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that income tax collections rose by $325 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30 for taxpayers who make estimated payments on capital gains and other income that isn’t subject to payroll withholding taxes. Those payments began rolling into the state treasury soon after President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December.

Virginia also is benefiting from a $227 million jump in income tax withheld from paychecks, the biggest single source of state revenue.

Total revenue collections rose by 6.3 percent in the fiscal year, ahead of the revenue forecast of 3.4 percent growth.

“On the strength of a record $2.4 billion in revenue collections in the month of June, I am happy to announce that preliminary figures indicate that the state concluded fiscal year 2018 with an approximately $551.9 million surplus in general fund revenue collections,” Northam said in a statement.

“This significant surplus will substantially increase the commonwealth’s cash reserves in order to protect taxpayers against a future economic downturn and further affirm our valuable AAA bond rating.”

Withholding revenue rose 5.4 percent for the year, almost 2 percentage points higher than the forecast of 3.5 percent.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the [federal] budget passed by Congress, increasing defense spending, and the tax cuts at the federal level,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said in an interview. “We think it’s stimulative in the short term.”

The nonwithholding income tax collections are trickier for the state to gauge because they could reflect taxpayer efforts to avoid limits imposed on deductions for state and local taxes in the new federal law.

Virginia has refunded $75 million in estimated tax payments and some large taxpayers have made payments but haven’t filed their state returns, which are due by Nov. 1 for extended filing.

“We still don’t know what part of it is going to be subject to being refunded,” Layne said.

Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said in a statement that the revenue surplus is “thanks in large part to responsible budgeting and strong economic growth spurred by Republican policies at the state and national level.”

Wary of windfalls

Virginia lawmakers and policymakers have been wary of counting on windfalls of nonwithholding tax revenues since 2014, when the bottom fell out a year after a big surge in payments in response to an increase in the federal capital gains tax in late 2012.

As a result, the state places a “collar” on the volatile source of revenues that limits the amount of new nonwithholding revenue that can be available for spending in the two-year state budget.

This year, Northam and the General Assembly already have agreed to deposit any surplus tax revenues in either the Revenue Stabilization Fund or a new cash reserve. The commitment helped to persuade S&P Global Ratings to upgrade Virginia’s financial outlook from negative to stable the day after Northam signed the budget on June 7.

“There is no question that the decision to appropriate 100 percent of the surplus to replenishing our cash reserves was key to S&P,” House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said of the role the reserve commitment played in the national rating agency’s decision.

His committee had estimated an additional $500 million in revenue to bolster reserves, while the Senate Finance Committee said the total could exceed $600 million.

“I’m very pleased that it exceeded our target by $50 million,” Jones said. “That puts more money into our cash reserve.”

S&P had downgraded the financial outlook to negative a year ago because of concerns that Virginia had depleted its rainy day fund by drawing on reserves even when the state’s revenues were growing.

The state has withdrawn money twice to balance the budget to avoid cutting core services to make up for projected revenue shortfalls — first in 2014 because of the collapse of nonwithholding payments, and again in 2016 because payroll taxes didn’t increase as fast as forecast because of slow wage growth.

Sales taxes

In addition to income taxes, Virginia’s sales tax collections increased by 3.1 percent in the fiscal year, a 10th of a percentage point higher than forecast, for a total of $3.5 billion.

Sales tax collections do not reflect potential changes in Virginia law after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month that overturned a prior ruling that prevented states from collecting taxes on internet sales.

State officials estimate the taxation of online sales — in addition to sales taxes already collected from Amazon and other online retailers with distribution warehouses in Virginia — could boost the state treasury by $250 million to $300 million a year.

Layne expects the General Assembly to address the issue of online sales taxes, as well as state conformity with the federal tax reforms, in its 45-day session that begins in January.

Northam will address the assembly’s joint money committees on Aug. 17 with final revenue numbers for the last fiscal year and July. The state will then go through its normal process for revising its revenue forecast for the governor’s budget proposals in December.

“Neither internet sales nor [tax] conformity will be part of the new forecast because they are not law,” Layne said.

The new budget already will spend $60 million a year in additional income tax withholding revenues anticipated in the biennium.

Some of the additional money collected at the end of the last fiscal year could have come at the expense of revenues for the first month of the new fiscal year, Layne said.

With the July Fourth holiday falling on Wednesday, some taxpayers may have made withholding tax payments early because collections in the first two days of the new year were lower than a year earlier.

“It looks like we had about a $100 million flip,” he said. “It’s still cash revenue in the [previous] fiscal year, so it’s got to be counted.”

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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One House speaker honors another as ‘a special, special man’

One House speaker honors another as ‘a special, special man’

Posted by on Mar 8, 2018 in News | 0 comments

03/07/18

For a moment, the Virginia House of Delegates stood with two speakers of the House.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker,” House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, greeted House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

Jones then turned to former House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, standing with his family in the center aisle of the institution he served for 30 years, including 15 as its undisputed leader.

 “Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker,” Jones said to the man who named him to the powerful budget committee more than four years ago.

Howell’s return to the House was emotional for more reasons than his memory. On Jan. 2, a day after he officially retired as a state employee, Howell was stricken by a heart attack and taken into emergency surgery.

“There is life after retirement, though I haven’t found it yet,” he quipped during the House ceremony on Wednesday.

As the year began, the House that Howell had led with a quick wit and firm hand had been transformed by an electoral tsunami that flipped 15 seats to Democratic control and whittled a two-thirds Republican majority to two seats. As he recovered in a Fredericksburg hospital, political control of the House rested on a random drawing of lots from a bowl to determine the winner of a tied election in Newport News.

Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, won the drawing and the House elected Cox as its new speaker, but instead of the firewall that Howell had erected against Medicaid expansion, the Republican leadership adopted a state budget built on it and the billions of dollars in federal money available under the Affordable Care Act.

 

‘Integrity and character’

Howell was remembered on Wednesday less for his political bearings than his moral example, which Cox called “Bill Howell’s integrity and character.”

“You’re a special, special man,” Cox told Howell, who stood with Cessie, his wife of 51 years, as well as sons Billy and Jack.

Earlier, Howell had appeared on the other side of the Capitol in the Virginia Senate. It also honored the man named as Outstanding Virginian of 2018 by a committee in partnership with the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy “to recognize leaders who have made an indelible mark on the commonwealth,” according to the resolution adopted by both chambers.

“I tell you, Bill Howell is a man of true integrity and honor, and he’s someone who’s always going to be known for doing what he thinks is right, even if it’s going to be difficult,” said Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, who introduced the former speaker in the “other” chamber.

For Jones, the proof was Howell’s role in reshaping the way Virginia raises money for highways and mass transit, as well as how it sets the priorities for spending it.

In 2013, Howell sponsored legislation on behalf of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell to overhaul transportation funding in Virginia for the first time in almost 30 years.

But the $6 billion package that emerged looked much different than it did when Howell introduced House Bill 2313. “It became clear that much more was needed to be done to solve the challenges for our commonwealth,” said Jones, who led the House effort to pass the legislation.

The law, raising taxes at the state and regional levels, became the legacy achievement of McDonnell’s term, but also made Howell and other supporters political targets in GOP primaries two years later. Howell won his 2015 primary challenge handily and the subsequent general election for his 15th and final term.

 

Retirement system reform

Howell’s achievements also include playing a major role in pushing for reforms of the Virginia Retirement System to reduce its long-term unfunded liabilities and require the legislature to fund the full state contribution required to keep pension plans for state employees, teachers and local employees on sound actuarial footing.

This year, the pension plans will be fully funded, ahead of the schedule adopted in the reform package that Jones carried for the House and Howell in 2012.

However, the former speaker was denied his long-held dream of establishing a system of 401(k)-style retirement savings plans instead of traditional pensions for new state employees. Legislation he had championed as chairman of a joint commission on employee benefits and pension reforms died in a Senate committee on the last day of the 2017 session.

“Beneath the affable demeanor was one of the most savvy and intelligent leaders Virginia has ever known,” Jones said.

Howell, who announced his retirement at the end of the last session, praised his wife for her steadfast support, “not just in the late unpleasantness, but for 51 years,” and thanked his legislative colleagues.

“The only thing I love more than Virginia, perhaps, is the Virginia House of Delegates,” he said to one last thundering ovation.

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