This report provides an overview of the results of Access Point’s efforts on behalf of the Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership, which includes the Dulles Regional, Greater Reston and Loudoun County chambers of commerce, during the 2015 General Assembly session. Click here to view an updated bill tracking status report, which shows how each of the Partnership’s priority bills fared at the conclusion of the session.
• Minimum Wage – Among the initial issues the Partnership faced this session was an effort to increase the minimum wage, which would have had a significantly negative impact on businesses, particularly smaller employers. While there were a number of bills that approached the issue from a range of angles, by the mid-point of the session, all those bills were defeated.
• Economic Impact Analysis Reporting – Also in the area of economic development, the Partnership proactively worked to support several pieces of legislation that provide that, in the event that an economic impact analysis completed by the Department of Planning and Budget reveals that a proposed regulation would have an adverse economic impact on businesses or would impose a significant adverse economic impact on a locality, business, or entity particularly affected, the Department must advise the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, and the House and Senate money committees within the 45-day period allowed for preparation of the economic impact analysis. The bill also requires the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules to review the rule or regulation at hand, and report quarterly to the Governor and the General Assembly as it is implemented, including in its report a statement of any position taken by the Commission on the regulation.
The Partnership strongly opposes any policy action that adversely impacts the business climate in Virginia, including imposition of overly burdensome rules and regulations. This legislation takes a positive step forward in ensuring the Governor and legislature are aware of the economic impact of regulations being imposed and can act appropriately.
At the conclusion of the session, all these bills passed. This area is an area I would recommend considering an off-session focus with the patrons and other business groups. I believe there are ways to strengthen the review and evaluation of regulations and their impacts even further, to include all state agencies, which would greatly benefit businesses.
• Meals Tax Referendum – Another important win this session for the Partnership was the defeat of legislation that would have eliminated the referendum requirement for local food and beverage (or meals) taxes. While the Senate bill that would have made this change was passed by the Senate committee where it was considered, after a full-court advocacy effort with members of the Senate leadership, the patron agreed to strike this bill from the docket on the floor of the Senate.
• Pro-Business Procurement Policy – The 2015 session was an active session in the area of procurement, which the Partnership considers an economic development issue as it impacts a business’s ability to be successful and grow. In particular, the Partnership has supported a bill that makes changes to the limits on Term and Job Order contracts. This legislation is important to local governments, businesses that support them, and taxpayers who fund them. With localities managing and funding more capital infrastructure projects, the changes made through this legislation to Term and Job Order contracts will allow for much more efficient procurement of these services, which saves time and taxpayer money, and enables work to be completed more expeditiously and cost-effectively by businesses. This legislation was passed by both bodies and now will go to the Governor for his signature.
• Innovation and Entrepreneurism Investment Authority – In an effort to promote business growth and development, the Partnership actively supported legislation related to the Innovation and Entrepreneurism Investment Authority (IEIA) that addresses two primary goals:
- Provides a restatement/clarification of the IEIA and strengthens reporting obligations to enable private-sector funding for CIT programs; and
- Makes one administrative adjustment to support achieving Authority quorum, which has been a challenge that needed to be addressed.
It was and is the intent that The MACH37 Cyber Accelerator created by the General Assembly in 2013 would seek private-sector funding to support operations. Unfortunately, Senate caboose budget language prohibited the IEIA/CIT from forming legal structures to secure private funding. Coupled with inconsistent legal opinions, IEIA/CIT officials determined that the only opportunity to secure private funding for MACH37 and related programs was by clarifying IEIA/CIT’s ability to form the legal structures that provide private contributors with assurances that their contributions will remain with MACH37 and similar structures. Currently, as we have seen often before, Governors and General Assemblies can shift monies to other purposes. This legislation codifies and clarifies the IEIA’s authority, thus giving the private sector the assurance it needs to invest in MACH37 and gives CIT the ability to obtain and hold equity positions in startup companies. MACH37 has a successful record, creating 17 new companies in 16 months in a fast-growing marketplace that desperately needs tools to encourage business formation and growth. This legislation is critical to ensure MACH37 will continue and expand its success.
In addition, with the clarification of its authority, this bill also strengthens existing IEIA/CIT obligations to report to the Governor and General Assembly, ensuring reporting is consistent over time, and not subject to budget language that changes every year, while acknowledging the need to keep proprietary information confidential and governance-related reporting decisions within the domain of the appointed Board of Directors. This legislation was passed by both the House and Senate. Budget language was also included in the budget that passed regarding this issue.
• Existing High-Growth Company Retention Study – In recognition of the tremendous value of Virginia’s existing businesses, the Partnership supported a study that requires the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to study the feasibility of incorporating programs to support existing high-growth companies into the state's current economic development programs and activities. Existing high-growth companies are defined as privately held enterprises with high potential for growth that employ fewer than 100 employees, generate annual revenues of $50 million or less, and have moved beyond the startup phase of business development to become established businesses within the local and regional community. This bill is a recommendation of the Small Business Commission. With strong Partnership support, it passed both the House and Senate.
• Online Travel Company Tax Remittance – One of the Partnership’s disappointments of the session was the failure of legislation to advance that would have ensured that online travel companies remit taxes in the same manner in which their competitors do. This legislation likely failed for two reasons – the change was perceived by conservative members of both bodies as a tax increase and the leader of this charge has been the hoteliers, as opposed to a broader coalition that also includes other interested stakeholders, including business organizations and local governments, which are also impacted. Moving forward, this is definitely an area where a more targeted effort in the off-session to build a more diverse coalition and strategy may yield a more successful result.
• Funding for Economic Development Incentives – The Partnership actively lobbied in support of funding for economic development incentive funding at the state level and was pleased that the final budget that passed included $27 million for the Governor’s Opportunity Fund.
• Support for the PACE Program – The Partnership’s energy policy focus this session was on support for legislation that will enable use of the PACE program, which is a loan program for property owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy measures for their properties such as: chillers, boilers, controls, solar, lighting and windows. In summary, this legislation does the following:
- Enables localities to create PACE loan programs and hire third-party administrators to operate PACE programs and charge fees to PACE borrowers to cover administrative costs;
- Enables commercial and multifamily buildings (except condos) to be eligible for PACE loans;
- Enables PACE loans to have tax lien status subject to subordination from the existing mortgage holder; and
- Enables a PACE loan to be repaid as a special assessment.
The PACE program represents a significant economic development opportunity in Virginia and will benefit the following stakeholders:
- Commercial, industrial and multi-family building owners;
- Contractors, consultants and engineers;
- Localities seeking to create jobs and improve the building stock; and
- Lenders (PACE loans are a new loan product to offer).
Both the House and Senate bills that advance these goals passed and now go to the Governor for his signature.
• CTE Alignment with National Credentials – Among the Partnership’s priorities this session was a piece of legislation that will ensure that all CTE courses for which there is a national certification be aligned with that national certification. This will enable students to graduate from high school ready to immediately enter the workforce and will maximize investments in our K-12 education system. This legislation was passed by the House and Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
• Credential Training Grants – In an effort to support all routes to the workforce, including earning valuable credentials in high demand fields, the Partnership supported legislation that establishes a grant program that will pay grants to individuals successfully completing a non-credit workforce training program and earning the related credential in a high-demand field. The grant, up to a total of $1,000, would be limited to payment of tuition charged for the training program, the cost of any required textbooks, and the cost of any examination required to earn the credential. The non-credit workforce training program must be provided or sponsored by a Virginia community college, a private institution certified to operate in Virginia by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) that has elected to participate in the grant program, or the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, New College Institute, Roanoke Higher Education Center, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, or Eastern Virginia Medical School. Individuals would apply for grants directly to the school that provided or sponsored the workforce training program. The Virginia Board of Workforce Development would maintain a list of high-demand fields and the related credentials on its website. The amount of grants available each year for the program would be determined by the general appropriation act. The bill has a delayed effective date of January 1, 2016. This incentive could be extremely effective at not only offsetting the costs of important training that leads to attainment of credentials, but also encourage more individuals to pursue this route to the workforce.
While the legislation supporting this did not pass, both funding and budget language was included in the final budget that was passed, making the efforts of the Partnership on this item a success.
• Workforce Development Reform – The Partnership recognizes that the Commonwealth’s workforce development system is large, disjointed, and in need of reform and increased collaboration, both internally and with the business community. The good news is that the workforce development system is well funded by a wide range of sources, which makes prudent use of that funding even more critical to ensure we are fully leveraging the benefits an effective workforce development system can deliver. To that end, the Partnership supported a number of bills that improve Virginia’s workforce development system by developing consistent metrics by which programs will be evaluated, increasing accountability and transparency, and ensuring that programs are working toward shared goals. All the legislation the Partnership has supported in this arena passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
• Award of Academic Credit for Military Training – Given the significant veteran population in Virginia and the workforce needs in specialized fields that often require skills comparable to experience gained through military training, the Partnership supported the award of credit for specific military training to enable veterans to enter the workforce more quickly, meeting needs in high demand fields. Legislation that supports this goal passed both bodies and is awaiting signature by the Governor.
• Overall Higher Education Investment – The Partnership was very pleased to see an additional $42 million invested in higher education in the final budget, included $19.8 million to incentivize enrollment, $10.1 million in financial aid and $5 million for research.
• Transportation Investment Prioritization – The Partnership supported legislation which requires that 70 percent of the revenues received by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority be used solely to fund transportation projects selected by the Authority that are contained in the regional transportation plan and that have been rated, including transit. The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2016. It has passed out of the House and will now be considered by the Senate. While there were a few last-minute changes to the legislation during the final hours of session, the bill was passed by both bodies and now goes to the Governor for his signature.
• Opposition to Anti-PPTA Legislation – The Partnership actively opposed a series of bills that would have harmed Virginia’s valuable Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). This is a critical tool in our transportation tool box to enable the private sector to partner with the public sector, in many cases, to advance significant “megaprojects” that would have never otherwise been possible. In order to protect the PPTA and ensure private-sector transportation companies continue to want to work in Virginia, the Partnership worked actively with others, and was successful in defeating all the anti-PPTA legislation introduced this session.
• Opposition to Use of Transportation Funds for Sidewalks/Trails – Given the limited transportation dollars available for much-needed construction and maintenance projects, the Partnership opposed several bills that would have enabled transportation funding to be allocated to sidewalks and trails. All those bills were defeated or otherwise failed to advance.
• Transportation Trust Fund Lock Box – As in previous years, the Partnership supported efforts to ensure that funding designated for transportation purposes through the Transportation Trust Fund not be used for non-transportation purposes. Despite our continued efforts, there is still a reluctance among policymakers to take this step, so all the measures introduced this session that would have supported this goal failed to advance.
• JLARC Medicaid Study – In the healthcare area, the Partnership supported a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study of Virginia’s Medicaid program to ensure it is managed as efficiently as possible. While the Partnership supports a specific approach to Medicaid expansion concurrent with reform, no legislation was proposed that met the standards set for Medicaid expansion. This study is, however, consistent with the Partnership’s support for Medicaid reform, which is why it is supporting it. While JLARC studies are in high demand, this study resolution did successfully pass in the House and Senate. The focus of the study did narrow as it worked through the process and has more of a focus on the cost and management of long-term care by Virginia’s Medicaid program, but given the high cost of long-term care in the Medicaid system, this is still an extremely valuable study that will yield information that can help identify areas of potential reform within Medicaid. Behavioral health was also included in the purview of the final study that passed.
• Healthcare Safety Net Funding – While this was not among the Partnership’s priorities, given Medicaid has not expanded in Virginia, safety net healthcare providers have become even more vital. That being said, the adopted budget included $132.9 million in healthcare safety net funding, which will help address growing needs across the Commonwealth.