Howell: I Am Here in Reston

Sen Janet Howell/File PhotoVirginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) wants to let her constitutes know she is right here.

“Despite what you may have been reading on Republican blogs and some inaccurate press reports, I am not in Africa,” she wrote to Restonians in an e-mail and on Facebook Tuesday. “Today, I am in Reston.  Yesterday, I was in Richmond working with other Senate negotiators on the budget. Thursday, I will be in the Capitol for a Senate Finance Committee meeting and the session.”

Howell, a senior member of the Senate Finance committee, is responding to a Richmond-Times Dispatch story that was picked up by other media outlets and blogs saying the state budget may not be passed before the July 1 deadline in part because she will be on a vacation in Africa until June 24.

The Virginia General Assembly has been at a budget impasse for three months. The July 1 deadline is important because the commonwealth may face a government shutdown or deep cuts in state aid if a budget is not adopted by then.

Howell, who has represented Reston for more than 20 years, said she had a long-planned trip with her granddaughter, but that trip will now be shortened to attend to the budget issue.

“I have had to shorten a trip with my granddaughter that has been planned for a year and a half in order to live up to my responsibilities as a senator,” Howell wrote. “When I ran for office, I made a commitment to the people in the 32nd District to actively represent them.  I will always keep that commitment.”

The General Assembly’s budget standoff comes over Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to expand Virginia Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured Virginians. Republicans are opposed to the idea because there is no longterm plan to fund it, which may leave the commonwealth paying the bill in the future.

On Monday, Sen. Philip Puckett (D-Russell), resigned his seat. That gives the Republicans a 20-19 edge in the Senate.

McAuliffe says Puckett’s resignation had created uncertainty for his plan.

“I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap.”

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