Investing in Public Safety
Last Wednesday, I took the gavel of the Public Safety Subcommittee for the first time. Over the course of the next month, the Senate Finance Committee will be working to report the Senate’s Budget to the full body for its consideration.
Under the leadership of Democrats in the General Assembly, over the last four years, minimum salaries for state level public safety officers increased $10,769 on average for entry level positions and $19,918 on average for the highest ranked positions. This includes correctional staff at the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Virginia State Police (VSP) officers, and also deputy sheriffs and regional jails officers.
Between 2021 and 2023, we also provided significant bonuses for law enforcement and public safety officers. That included $4,000 for DOC and DJJ correctional staff, and $3,000 for deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers. We also provided $5,000 bonuses for VSP officers, as well as up to $2,000 for relocation expenses, and bonuses of between 2.0 and 8.0 percent of an officer’s salary. All of these were in addition to normal bonuses provided by agencies within their existing operating budgets.
As the new Chairman of the Public Safety Subcommittee of Senate Finance, I look forward to continuing that track record of investment to keep Virginia communities safe.
39TH SENATE DISTRICT TOWN HALL RECAP
This past Sunday, I hosted a Town Hall at Alexandria City High School along with Delegates Charniele Herring, Alfonso Lopez, and Adele McClure. Special thanks to Virginia public radio journalist Michael Lee Pope for moderating our discussion.
We fielded numerous questions about the proposal to relocate the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards to an arena in Potomac Yard, including project financing, the potential transportation impact along the Rt. 1 Corridor, and other quality-of-life issues. For more information about the proposed arena project, please visit www.MonumentalALX.com.
In addition to discussing the Monumental proposal, we answered questions on an array of other topics, including the proposal to build a casino on the Silver Line Metro corridor in Fairfax County, gun violence prevention, and abortion access.
Thank you again to everyone who came out; for those who are still looking to provide community input, you are still able to fill out my constituent survey, which can be found at adamebbin.com/survey.
It is my continued honor to represent the people of the 39th Senate District.
My legislative email address is SenatorEbbin@senate.virginia.gov.
You can also reach us at our new Richmond phone number 804-698-7539.
Expanded Virginia Gambling to be Considered by General Assembly
Virginia’s legal gaming landscape has shifted rapidly over the past five years. In decades past, legal gambling was limited to the Virginia Lottery, authorized in the early 1990s through a statewide referendum. Prior to five years ago, the only other legal form of wagering in Virginia was charitable bingo and “pull-tab” machines. Charitable gaming provides a sizable portion of funding for many of Virginia’s nonprofit organizations, and is regulated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
However, in 2018, Virginia expanded gaming when the General Assembly legalized wagering on “Historical Horse Racing” (HHR) machines at the Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County and six other sites, including the Town of Dumfries in Northern Virginia. The satellite locations required local approval though a local referendum before they could move forward. The HHR machines are overseen by the Virginia Racing Commission.
In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation that authorized gambling on most professional sporting events, overseen by the Virginia Lottery. Sports betting is available online, on a cell phone, or at a Virginia-based casino and other certain locations.
In addition, the General Assembly - in 2020 - legalized casino gaming (overseen by the Virginia Lottery) at up to five locations pending approval in a local referendum. They include Portsmouth, Bristol, Norfolk, Danville, and Richmond. Since 2020, four of those cities have passed the required referendum and opened a casino. However, Richmond voters defeated a referendum to approve a casino two times in a span of three years.
Three of the major gaming issues in 2024 are the potential legalization of “gray machines” (or “skill games”), the possible addition of casinos in Northern Virginia and Petersburg, and the legalization of slot machine-like Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) in restaurants around the state.
As I wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this past fall, I am not a fan of gray machines, primarily because they are often encountered in nontraditional gaming environments, like convenience stores where families might shop for everyday items, or restaurants. This contrasts with destination-oriented gaming sites like a casino, where a consumer has made a conscious decision to seek out gambling. For several years, the machines operated in a “gray area” that was not explicitly legal.
In my opinion, gray machines don’t serve the consumer interests of Virginia’s gambling public. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the bill to legalize gray machines does not contain a system that the Commonwealth could verify or audit to ensure that the Department of Taxation and the small business owners where the machines are located get their fair share of the proceeds. I am also concerned that some proposals to legalize gray machines do not contain protections to dissuade wagering by underage Virginians.
I also expect that bills to establish casinos in the Tysons area of Northern Virginia, along with a conference center, and in the City of Petersburg, will generate much attention. As Chairman of the General Laws and Technology Committee, I have appointed a Gaming Subcommittee so that the numerous, and complex gambling bills can be compared and considered, with the exception of one bill that was considered by the Commerce and Labor Committee.
I also serve on the Joint Subcommittee to Study the Feasibility of Establishing a Virginia Gaming Commission to provide a more unified governance of the various forms of gambling in Virginia. As described above, the current landscape for Virginia gaming involves the Virginia Racing Commission, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Virginia Lottery. I believe that one single entity overseeing what is now a regulatory patchwork would better serve the public.
39th Senate District Town Hall - This Sunday, January 21st
This Sunday, January 21st, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, at Alexandria City High School, please join me and Delegates Charniele Herring, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Alfonso Lopez, and Adele McClure for a 39th Senate District Town Hall. The event will be moderated by Virginia public radio reporter Michael Lee Pope, who will pose questions pre-submitted online or at the event. If you would like to RSVP, or pre-submit a question, visit www.adamebbin.com/townhallrsvp
Stay In The Know
You can stay on top of General Assembly events through the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS) website. On that site, you can find many helpful links, including:
My new legislative email address is SenatorEbbin@senate.virginia.gov. You can also reach us at our new Richmond phone number 804-698-7539.
It is my continued honor to represent the people of the 39th Senate District.
2024 Legislative Agenda
State Senators are limited to introducing 21 pieces of legislation this session, so I am hard at work putting the final touches on my package of bills for 2024. As you may have seen, I have already introduced one amendment to the Virginia Constitution, as well as four pieces of legislation, including one that I am carrying with my friend and newly-elected fellow Senator, Schuyler VanVallkenburg.
I have also filed several pieces of additional legislation, including bills that would:
SAVE THE DATE!
I will co-host a Town Hall meeting with the rest of the 39th Senate District delegation to the General Assembly on Sunday, January 21st, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm at Alexandria City High School. Along with Delegates Charniele Herring, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Alfonso Lopez, and Adele McClure, I will be responding to your questions, and listening for good ideas.
ARENA PROPOSAL FOR POTOMAC YARD
On Monday evening, earlier this week, I participated in a virtual town hall hosted by the Del Ray Citizens Association, to hear questions from the Alexandria community about the proposal for relocating the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals from the District to Potomac Yard. For those who participated, and patiently waited while we negotiated technical difficulties, I thank you. If you missed the opportunity to participate, either because of your schedule, or due to technical difficulties, you can view the meeting in its entirety online by clicking here, which you can also find on the Del Ray Citizens Association YouTube channel.
It is clear that public-private sports/entertainment proposals do not always work out well for taxpayers and local communities; that’s why every proposal must be thoroughly vetted by elected leaders and the public, and tested with hard questions. To that end, I will continue to urge the Youngkin Administration to respond to important questions I have heard from the community about the proposal for Potomac Yard.
Update on State Aid to Public K-12
Last year, thanks to the leadership of Senate Democrats, Virginia partially lifted the Great Recession-era cap on state funding for public school support staff. Because of that change, the Commonwealth now will pay its share for 3,670 additional support staff for the 2023-24 school year.
For localities in the 39th Senate District, that investment includes:
Public school support positions, like as guidance counselors, teacher assistants, and school nurses, are fundamentally critical to the success of Virginia’s children. Virginia needs to maintain its expanded support for them, and continue the effort to pay them what they deserve. Many students have barriers to learning, and they require support beyond what some of the best public school teachers could provide. That’s why public school support staff play such an important role in helping Virginia’s students overcome their challenges, and gain an education that will help them uplift themselves and their communities.
In reaction to the Great Recession, an arbitrary cap was imposed on the number of public school support staff the state would pay for; this action reduced state support by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Since the cap was established in 2009, support staff decreased by 3,630 positions across the state; while at the same time, Virginia’s public school enrollment increased by more than 16,000 students.
When lawmakers, led by Senate Democrats, pressed Governor Youngkin to agree to partially lifting the Great Recession-era staff support cap, that represented a significant policy victory that was years in the making. This means that the Commonwealth will finally pay its share of the costs for 3,670 additional support staff for the 2023-2024 school year.
Virginia’s legislative research arm – JLARC – just last summer estimated that the state is underfunding the public education system by as much as $ 4 billion per year. The report concluded that Virginia spends less per public school student than our neighboring states of Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia.
During this next legislative session, which begins on Wednesday, January 10th, legislators must take into account the demonstrated need for more K-12 public education funding, not less.
As a senior member of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, I will fight to protect these hard-won investments in public education in the Commonwealth, and expand them where we can afford.
Unfortunately, Governor Youngkin’s proposed 2024-2026 state budget would invest less in Virginia’s public education system, not more. That is unacceptable.
YOUNGKIN'S PROPOSED 2024-2026 BUDGET
Those two words fairly summarize the proposed state budget from Governor Youngkin.
To its core, the Governor’s proposed state budget ignores the warnings of nonpartisan staff, and some of his own economic advisers. Youngkin’s fiscal proposal could result in an out-of-balance state budget.
As the nonpartisan staff director of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee told members, including myself, less than two months ago: “Recent increases to the standard deduction have reduced individual income tax revenue, the primary [general fund revenue] source, and staff would caution against further changes without adjusting spending or increasing other revenue sources.”
Youngkin is again calling for a permanent tax break to predominantly benefit Virginia’s wealthiest residents. To pay for it, Youngkin wants to increase the regressive state sales tax on all Virginians and reduce spending levels for critical investments, including public education.
After unveiling his budget proposal, Governor Youngkin added an even deeper note of unseriousness – a throw-away line in his speech about the Car Tax. Despite having two years to come up with a way to pay for it, Youngkin provided no plan – instead asking the General Assembly to improvise within our upcoming 60-day session.
Now is a time for thoughtful leadership – not slogans or shoddy math. The budget of the Commonwealth of Virginia is not a game to be conducted with play money.
As a returning member of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, I will scrutinize the budget and do everything I can to protect core investments in public education, Metro, affordable housing, mental health and public safety.
During this year’s legislative session, Senators are limited to introducing 21 pieces of legislation. The House of Delegates has not established such a cap.
Given the new limitation on the number of bills that I can introduce, I will be advancing progressive priorities through my own legislative portfolio, as well as working closely with colleagues.
I look forward to defending and advancing Virginia’s progress on LGBTQ equality and gun violence prevention. I will again introduce my amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to finally remove the discriminatory stain on our governing document that prohibits marriage equality, and instead enshrine an affirmative right to marry for two consenting adults in Virginia. I will also carry legislation to ban the carrying of an assault weapon in public, as well as other gun violence prevention bills.
Stay tuned as I finalize the remainder of my legislative portfolio.
POTOMAC YARD DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
The proposal for an arena in Potomac Yard by the Commonwealth, the City of Alexandria, and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, has generated much interest and discussion, both locally and statewide.
I was not involved in the development of this proposal. However, I firmly believe it is a non-starter without a fully-functioning Metro system, and I was dismayed that the Governor did not include additional funding for Metro in his proposed budget.
The Governor needs to understand that new Metro investment is a requirement for the continued economic vitality of our region. We cannot even begin to consider his proposal for Potomac Yard without assurances that Metro will continue to adequately serve Northern Virginia.
To find more information, watch the presentation by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, or sign-up to receive alerts about opportunities to make your views heard on the proposal, click here.
The announcement by Governor Youngkin and the City of Alexandria marks the start of a long process that ultimately will require a vote of approval by the Alexandria City Council as well as the Virginia General Assembly.
I have not yet seen legislation that would establish the proposed Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority. I look forward to reviewing the economic studies completed and provided to the Commonwealth and the City of Alexandria in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the executive summary of an economic study that was completed for Alexandria can be viewed here.
UPCOMING TOWN HALL MEETING
Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and I will be participating in a virtual Zoom meeting hosted by the Del Ray Citizens Association on Monday, January 8th, at 7:00.
We will be fielding questions regarding the state’s role in the proposed arena project in Potomac Yard. This meeting will occur in advance of any votes pertaining to the proposed arena.
Those who wish to attend can sign up to receive the Zoom link here. You can ask a question in advance here.