Delegate Mark Cole
P. O. Box 6046
Fredericksburg, VA 22403
(540) 752-8200
Delegate@MarkLCole.com

Paid for and authorized by Mark Cole for Delegate

Delegate Mark Cole
It has been my honor to represent the citizens of the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2002. The House of Delegates is one half of the Virginia General Assembly, the other half being the Virginia Senate. The General Assembly convenes annually in January for about two months to consider legislation and the state budget. I welcome your input on any issues that may come before the General Assembly. I also encourage you to contact me should you have questions or difficulties in dealing with state agencies. I look forward to hearing from you!




COLE COMPLETES SUCCESSFUL SESSION
-- 10 Bills Patroned by Cole Pass the General Assembly --
-- 6 Resolutions and 3 Budget Amendments Sponsored by Cole Adopted --

Richmond, VA. The General Assembly session ended on time Saturday, February 28th as a final compromise budget was approved. During this session the General Assembly completed action on hundreds of bills and resolutions. Ten bills patroned by Delegate Mark L. Cole (R-88th District) have passed the General Assembly or were combined with similar bills that passed, along with six resolutions and three budget amendments he sponsored. Additionally, as Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, Cole guided the committee as it considered 120 bills and resolutions including reviewing the Governor's appointments to various boards and commissions.

Among the legislation successfully sponsored by Chairman Cole was House Bill (HB) 1727, which would make school transfers easer for children of military members. HB 1727 is a Department of Defense initiative to establish the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Military families frequently transfer to new assignments forcing their children to transfer to new schools. This can cause children to lose class credits or miss out on opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. "Our military families already make huge sacrifices in order to serve our Country, their children should not have to sacrifice educational opportunities," said Cole. The Compact would develop policies, legislation, and regulations to facilitate the transfer of military children.

House Joint Resolution (HJR) 688 also passed and is a Constitutional Amendment that would give the General Assembly more flexibility in granting real estate property tax relief to senior citizens and the disabled. If adopted the next step would be to allow localities to change how they grant property tax relief to senior citizens and the disabled, by implementing an income circuit breaker system. Localities would then be able to grant relief once a taxpayer’s property taxes exceeded a percentage of their household income. “The goal is to keep senior citizens from being forced out of their homes due to rising assessments and real estate taxes,” Cole explained. Constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly twice and then be approved by the voters before they become effective.

Cole’s HB 1628 will prohibit double bonding by VDOT for locally administered road projects. “This is a good government provision designed reduce the administrative requirements and costs for local road projects,” Delegate Cole said. “I am hopeful that this will make it a little easier for localities to build needed roads.”

Other bills that passed are HB 1637, changes the voting procedures for local Boards of Zoning Appeals; HB 2528, allows localities that conduct gun buy-back programs to offer firearms purchased for sale to federally licensed dealers in order to recapture some of the costs of the programs; HB 1729, authorizes residents to petition their local government to set up a special district to pay to bury electric transmission lines; HB 2544, expands the conditions for conducting election recounts when one of the top two candidates is a write-in; and HB 1629, which grants counties the same authority as cities and towns to prohibit loitering on highway bridges and overpasses.

Three bills sponsored by Cole were combined or incorporated into other legislation that passed were: HB 1854, was incorporated into HB 1678 which allows localities to use an administrative hearing officer during grievance proceedings; HB 2555, was incorporated into HB 2055 and provides localities greater flexibility in their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs; and HB 1666, was combined with HB 1618 which allows the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) to issue special hunting permits to military patients free of charge.

Additionally, Delegate Cole successfully sponsored budget amendments to fund the Interstate Compact on Military Children (in conjunction with HB 1727), to purchase software needed by the State Board of Elections to prepare for redistricting, and authorizing the University of Mary Washington to enter into agreements with the University of Mary Washington Foundation to construct student housing on Foundation property.

Of course the focus of most of the session has been on balancing the state budget in the face of the $2.9 billion deficit which was later revised to a $3.7 billion shortfall. The budget challenge was made more complex by to the Federal Stimulus package which was recently passed by the US Congress. While it included significant funds for Virginia, much effort was expended in reviewing the package to determine how it could be incorporated into the state budget. “While the federal funds temporarily restored cuts for critical programs such as law enforcement, I am concerned that it is simply delaying the difficult decisions that must be made,” Cole said. “Unless the economy turns around in the near future, we will be dealing with an even bigger budget shortfall next year. The current economic crisis was caused by excessive debt, and it will not be solved by the Federal government going even deeper into debt.”

SESSION NEARING COMPLETION
As we near the end of the 2009 General Assembly Session, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on my activities and highlight some important legislative initiatives. While this is the short session of the General Assembly, the 46 days we have to do the people’s business has been very busy. The House has been focused on balancing our state budget in the face of the $2.9 billion deficit Governor Kaine reported just before the start of the Session. In the last week, the Governor revised the deficit forecast to show a $3.7 billion shortfall. Our budget challenge has been made more complex due to the Federal Stimulus package which was recently passed by the US Congress. While it includes significant funds for Virginia, as with most Federal programs those funds also have significant strings attached to them. Unraveling those strings to find out how the funds can actually be used will take time. For instance, the transportation money included in the Stimulus can only be used in areas that are economically depressed, even though those areas do not have traffic problems. It looks like the Federal government is more concerned with creating make work jobs than with actually helping to relieve our traffic congestion.

The focus of our budget balancing efforts has been on eliminating earmarks for special interest projects, protecting core services and enacting policies that enhance job development. In the House of Delegates we have cut our own budget $1.1 million and have kept our pay the same since 1991 in order to help address these budget issues. I supported efforts to reduce the burdens on businesses and to adopt policies to encourage job retention and creation in Virginia. The solutions to our economic woes will come from the private sector and not from bloated government spending programs.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
I have sponsored or co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that address the concerns of our area, and support our military/veterans. One of them that has received a lot of attention is House Bill (HB) 1727, which would make school transfers easer for children of military members. It is a Department of Defense initiative to establish the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Military families frequently transfer to new assignments forcing their children to transfer to new schools. This can cause children to lose class credits or miss out on opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. Our military families already make huge sacrifices in order to serve our Country; their children should not have to sacrifice educational opportunities. At the time of the writing of this letter, HB 1727 had passed the House and was still being considered by the state Senate.

I sponsored House Joint Resolution (HJ) 688, which is a state Constitutional Amendment that would give localities more flexibility in granting real estate property tax relief to senior citizens and the disabled. The goal is to keep senior citizens from being forced out of their homes due to rising assessments and real estate taxes. Constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly twice and then be approved by the voters before they become effective. HJ 688 has passed both the House and the Senate this year and will be re-introduced again next year.

Other legislation that I sponsored which passed the House and are currently being considered by the Senate are HB 1628, which prohibits double bonding by VDOT for locally administered road projects; HB 1637, improves the voting procedures for local Boards of Zoning Appeals; HB 1854, which was incorporated into another bill, and would allow localities to use an administrative hearing officer during grievance proceedings; HB 2528, would require localities that conduct gun buy-back programs to do so by ordinance and to offer firearms purchased for sale to federally licensed dealers in order to recapture some of the costs of the programs; HB 1729, allows residents of an area to petition local government to set up a special district to pay to bury electric transmission lines; HB 2555, which was incorporated into another bill, provides localities greater flexibility in their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs; HB 2544, expands the conditions for conducting election recounts when one of the top two candidates is a write-in; HB 1629, grants counties the same authority as cities and towns to prohibit loitering on highway bridges and overpasses in order to deal with objects being thrown at cars from the bridge or overpass; and HB 1666, which was combined HB 1618 and allows the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) to issue special hunting permits free of charge to wounded military members while they are recovering or receiving treatment.

In addition to my legislation, as Chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee I guided the committee as we dealt with 118 bills and resolutions dealing with everything from amending the state Constitution, to election law, to the Governor’s appointments to various boards and commissions.

TRANSPORTION INITIATIVES
I co-sponsored several other initiatives to address our traffic problems, including HB 1579, which would dedicate more funds to our most congested areas, and HJ 620, a Constitutional Amendment that would make it much harder to spend transportation funds on other projects. I am also pushing for language in the state budget to require the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to expedite issuing previously authorized highway construction bonds. In 2007 we authorized $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds to jump start critical road projects in highly congested areas. VDOT has yet to issue the first bond for these projects. In fact, when we asked VDOT to share their plans for these projects the Commissioner told us that they have no plans to issue any of the bonds until 2011. Apparently transportation is not a high priority for our current Governor since he has no plans to use the transportation bonds we previously authorized before he leaves office; despite the fact that issuing bonds now, while interest rates are at record lows, would save the taxpayers millions in the long run. This leaves us no option but push for the inclusion of language in the budget to require VDOT to expedite the process.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY REACHES HALFWAY POINT
-- 11 Bills and 5 Resolutions Patroned by Cole Pass the House --

Richmond, VA. February 10th was Crossover at the General Assembly; the day that the House and Senate must complete action on their own bills. At the halfway point through the session, 11 bills patroned by Chairman Mark L. Cole (R-88th District) have passed the House or were combined with similar bills that passed, along with 5 resolutions he sponsored. Several other bills which he co-patroned also passed. The bills and resolutions have been sent to the Senate for consideration.

One of Chairman Cole’s bills, House Bill (HB) 1727, would make school transfers easer for children of military members. HB 1727 is a Department of Defense initiative to establish the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Military families frequently transfer to new assignments forcing their children to transfer to new schools. This can cause children to lose class credits or miss out on opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. “Our military families already make huge sacrifices in order to serve our Country, their children should not have to sacrifice educational opportunities” said Cole. The Compact would develop policies, legislation, and regulations to facilitate the transfer of military children.

House Joint Resolution (HJR) 688 is a Constitutional Amendment that would give the General Assembly more flexibility in granting real estate property tax relief to senior citizens and the disabled. If adopted the next step would be to allow localities to change how they grant property tax relief to senior citizens and the disabled, by implementing an income circuit breaker system. Localities would then be able to grant relief once a taxpayer’s property taxes exceeded a percentage of their household income. “The goal is to keep senior citizens from being forced out of their homes due to rising assessments and real estate taxes,” Cole explained. Constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly twice and then be approved by the voters before they become effective.

Cole’s HB 1730 would impose an expiration date or sunset provision of not more than four years on all new taxes or tax increases passed by the General Assembly. “This is a good government provision designed to force the General Assembly to examine and reevaluate taxes every four years,” Delegate Cole said. “Too often taxes are just taken for granted once they are implemented. This is how we end up still paying taxes that were imposed to pay for the War of 1812.”

Other good government bills that passed the House are HB 1628, which prohibits double bonding by VDOT for locally administered road projects; HB 1637, changes the voting procedures for local Boards of Zoning Appeals; HB 1854, was incorporated into HB 1678 and would allow localities to use an administrative hearing officer during grievance proceedings; and HB 2528, would require localities that conduct gun buy-back programs to do so by ordinance and to offer firearms purchased for sale to federally licensed dealers in order to recapture some of the costs of the programs.

Other legislation that Cole guided through the House are: HB 1729 which allows any locality to set up a special district to pay to bury electric transmission lines; HB 2555, was incorporated into HB 2055 and provides localities greater flexibility in their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs; HB 2544, expands the conditions for conducting election recounts when one of the top two candidates is a write-in; HB 1629, grants counties the same authority as cities and towns to prohibit loitering on highway bridges and overpasses; and HB 1666, which was incorporated into HB 1618 and allows the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) to issue special hunting permits to military patients free of charge.

Additionally, as chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee Cole guided the committee as it considered more than 80 bills and resolutions including reviewing the Governor’s appointments to various boards and commissions.

ECONOMIC RECOVERY AGENDA
Virginia’s economy has been dragged down by the global recession. While we may not have the economic or political clout to turn around the global or even national economy, we can adopt policies in Virginia to minimize its impact and encourage local economic activity.

In an effort to deal with Virginia’s economic recession, last week the House Leadership announced a series of common sense bills and budgetary initiatives to help spur job creation and boost the economy. The House proposals focus on policies to stimulate private investment, reduce burdens on businesses, and accelerate already approved infrastructure projects to take advantage of low interest rates (saving millions in the long run).

- Stimulating Virginia Business Job Creation. House Bill 2575 extends the successful major business facility job tax credit created under former Governor George Allen. In addition to continuing the program, which helped land a marquee business partnership in Virginia this fall, the bill addresses the current economic crisis by allowing businesses to receive the benefits of the credit more quickly, to immediately stimulate much needed job opportunities.

- Enhancing Economic Growth and Productivity. House Bill 2437 allows manufacturers to choose to apportion their state income tax based upon their sales, rather than the traditional three-factor formula. Twenty-two other states have implemented this single sales tax factor change. This legislation will be a clear signal to global companies that Virginia is open for business and all jobs are important to us. It also ensures that our entire manufacturing industry and economic development community has a new and valuable tool to help retain and create some 9,000 manufacturing jobs.

- Reinvesting in Virginia Financial Institutions. House Bill 2583 would require at least $ 400 million of the state’s Local Government Investment Pool (LGIP) funds be kept in the Commonwealth. This will maximize the liquidity of the Commonwealth’s banking system and help increase their capital which can then be reinvested to create more jobs. This economic reform also would mean the funds in the LGIP would be both FDIC insured and collateralized, unlike the current practice where they are subject to Wall Street’s whims.

- Encouraging Economic Development. House Bill 2550 will better position Virginia to make the infrastructure improvements necessary to attract major new employers. The proposal extends the use of existing innovative financing mechanisms to make site and other improvements necessary for job-creating economic development. By leveraging existing financing options, Virginia will be better able to attract major private entities making capital investments and creating jobs.

- Accelerating Higher Education Capital Building Projects. HB 1600 expedites $230 million in previously approved capital projects to stimulate an estimated 3,400 new jobs and while saving money by taking advantage of lower interest rates.

- Supporting Workforce Training. HB 2056 provides economic grant incentives for advanced workforce training programs and facilities to improve Virginia’s workforce and technology base.

In addition to these measures, I am sponsoring an amendment to the State Budget to suspend collection of the BPOL tax for one year. The BPOL tax is a tax on a business’ gross receipts and must be paid even if the business is losing money. It is especially unfair to small businesses, which are the economic engine responsible for creating most new jobs.

YOUR TRANSPORTATION DOLLARS AT WORK?
The General Assembly, led by efforts in the House, has significantly increased funding for transportation in recent years in an effort to deal with our serious traffic problems. While the General Assembly can determine the amount of funds dedicated to transportation and set high-level guidelines on transportation policy, it does not oversee the day-to-day operations of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and does not provide detailed direction regarding transportation policy or projects. That is the responsibility of the Governor as set forth in the Virginia Constitution.

In his role as Chief Executive for the Commonwealth, Governor Kaine recently authorized the use of nearly $ 1 million in transportation funds to bus people to the Presidential Inauguration. While I understand the significance of the Inauguration, I think it is irresponsible to use badly needed transportation funds for such a purpose. Especially during this tough economic time when we are having to make significant cuts in spending.

THE STATE BUDGET SITUATION
Our economy is in recession which has had a negative impact on tax revenues and the state budget. Legislators are examining ways to make the recession both short and shallow. And, we are working on closing a budget shortfall that Governor Kaine says is $2.9 Billion, but I believe will approach $4 Billion before session is over.

The budget will remain the focus of most news accounts coming from Richmond this year. Ordinarily when you hear about a state budget shortfall, it means Virginia’s government does not have as much money as it thought it would. This year, it is different. Because of the housing slump, job losses, and reductions in consumer spending, Virginia is receiving less in revenues from the real estate, income tax, and sales taxes. As a result, the Commonwealth will have less than it had last year.

Most often, two options are touted to resolve budget shortfalls: raising taxes or cutting spending. Of these, raising taxes is especially perilous in recessions. When government takes more money from people in the form of higher taxes, families and businesses have less money to spend. With less money to spend, families buy less, and when families buy less, recessions get worse. When businesses have less money to spend, it usually ends up cutting jobs.

That leaves cutting spending. Looking for savings in government is not always easy. But there may be more opportunities for reducing spending in Virginia’s budget than in other states. The National Association of State Budget Officers lists Virginia as one of the top five states in spending growth over the last decade. All totaled, the state budget has more than doubled in less than a decade, handily outpacing population and inflation.

As required by Virginia’s constitution, Governor Kaine has already proposed cutting spending in many areas while also raising some taxes in an effort to increase revenues. Now, the responsibility of acting on those proposals and considering other ideas falls to the General Assembly. That task will be the primary preoccupation of this year’s Session.

CHAIRMAN COLE NAMES APPOINTEES TO BI-PARTISAN REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE

RICHMOND, VA, 2 December 2008 - Delegate Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania), Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, today announced his appointments to the Virginia General Assembly’s Joint Reapportionment Committee. Chairman Cole named Delegates David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Petersburg), William H. Fralin, Jr. (R-Roanoke), Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth), and S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) to the Joint Committee.

“I believe that these appointees bring a diverse background and significant knowledge and experience to the redistricting process,” Chairman Cole noted. “I am confident their work will provide a strong foundation for Virginia’s decennial redistricting, serving to initiate a process that will reflect the citizens and laws of the Commonwealth.”

The delegates will serve on the Committee alongside Senators R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), and Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield). Senator Howell, who chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, designated the Senate members of the Joint Reapportionment Committee earlier this year.

With today’s announcement, the Joint Reapportionment Committee will consist of four Democratic and four Republican members. The Joint Committee, mandated by the Code of Virginia, oversees the initial tasks related to redistricting, and is charged with promoting an orderly process. It will assist in the process of developing a joint redistricting proposal in response to the 2010 census for consideration by both the House and Senate.

"The drawing of legislative and Congressional districts is an important responsibility of the General Assembly," said Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “I am confident that Chairman Cole has appointed members that will bring civic awareness and accountability to this committee's participation in that process.”

RECENT TRANSPORTATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The Governor and others have been quick to claim that nothing has been done to address our transportation problems in 20 years. This is because they equate raising taxes with “doing something”; unless taxes are increased significantly, nothing has been done. The 2004 tax increase (the largest in Virginia history) does not count because none of that money was dedicated to transportation, the biggest problem in our area.

The fact is that a lot has been done to try to address transportation in recent years. Funding for transportation has increased significantly, taxes and fees were increased for transportation just last year (but those tax and fee increases were not big enough for the Governor to count as doing something). Here are some seldom-publicized facts:

- 2005, increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in additional transportation funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95 (HB 1500). The House of Delegates had proposed $ 1.2 Billion for congestion relief, but the Senate and Governor Warner wanted significantly less, so we had to compromise on $ 850 million.

- 2006, built upon the previous year's actions by directing an additional $ 568 million in surplus dollars and ongoing funding to transportation (HB 5002).

- 2007, financed largest transportation investment in two decades, including $ 3 billion in bonding authority, increased vehicle registration fee, heavy truck fees, and the diesel fuel tax. Also required that at least half of any future budget surpluses go to transportation (HB 3202); nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding (not counting any future surpluses).

In 2008 we successfully restored $180 million in transportation funding that Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs. It seems that no matter how much more we spend on transportation, we keep falling further behind. We have already provided big funding increases for transportation. Now is not the time to reach deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets, now is the time to demand results for the big investments we are already making.

During the recent special session the House advanced a reform agenda, focusing on streamlining our transportation processes and adopting new, more cost-effective ways of providing transportation services (which have shown proven results in other states); while the State Senate and Governor simply called for more tax increases (including raising the Gas Tax) despite the fact that our economy is in recession and businesses and families are struggling to make ends meet. We were able to defeat the tax increase proposals, several on large bi-partisan votes; unfortunately all but two of our reform proposals were defeated in the State Senate. We have already significantly increased transportation funding. I believe now is the time to focus on transportation reform and improving efficiency, not reaching deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets.