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Legislators outline positions for Chamber

The Historic Triangle's delegation to the General Assembly met with members of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance for coffee and conversation Wednesday morning, an annual pre-session event.

One thing legislators seem certain of is that one of the biggest changes in 2016 will be Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, adding the co-chairmanship of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee to his job as Senate Minority Leader.

"That's one of the top stories of the year," said Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. "That's puts our area in a much stronger position."

Norment said the new position has caused him to cut back on his legislative workload. Last year he carried 27 bills and resolutions. This year he only has four so far.

"I'm going to need to be able to drill down into the details of the budget more than in past years," he said.

Although they split along party lines on the advisability of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's proposal to expand Medicaid, with Norment and Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City, against it and Mason and Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, in favor, the all said it likely isn't going to happen this year.

"I'd be very surprised if expansion of Medicaid was in the budget," Norment said.

He also said the $150 million that would bring in to the state isn't "diddly" in the context of a $100 billion budget.

"The governor was proud to announce the biggest budget ever, the first over $100 billion,' Norment said. "I don't think he factored in that his audience was composed of the majority-Republican Senate Finance Committee and the majority-Republican House Appropriations Committee."

Miller pointed out that the Medicaid money available under Obamacare could provide health insurance to 400,000 Virginians who don't have it now.

But Norment said that merely to pay for existing commitments under Medicaid would cost the state about $800 million over the next biennium.

"We need to reform Medicaid before we expand it," Pogge said.

All the legislature agreed with the Chamber about the importance of transportation, particularly the widening of Interstate 64.

However, Norment said the goal of widening the highway from the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to Interstate 295 outside Richmond isn't realistic at this point.

He also pointed out that the regional sales tax on gasoline that Hampton Roads was authorized to levy under the most recent transportation bill isn't bringing in the money that had been projected, because the price of a gallon of gasoline has been cut in half since it passed.

Pogge, known for her anti-fax views said she's be willing to consider tolls for some transportation projects.

"I could support tolls for new construction, because I see that more as a user fee than a tax," she said. "I couldn't support adding tolls to the existing facilities, like the bridge tunnel or the interstate."

The 2016 session of the General Assembly - a 60-day session - begins next Wednesday, Jan. 13.

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