House of Delegates District 96 Q&A: Brenda Pogge

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Brenda Pogge

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for 96th District seat in the House of Delegates.

Del. Brenda Pogge, the incumbent, faces newcomer Brandon Waltrip in the race. Pogge’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from Waltrip here.

1. What are the three major issues facing the 93rd District right now? How would you address those issues? Outline specific policy objectives.

The main issues facing the 96th District are the economy, jobs, and education.

The Economy: Congress is poised to pass an agreement on the federal budget, an act that will allay our fears concerning sequestration—at least for now. In Hampton Roads, 40% of our economy is dependant on military spending. In the first round of federal budget cuts in 2013, Virginia saw huge declines in military spending. We continue feeling the impact of these cuts.  At the state level, we have been working to strengthen our economy by attracting new businesses to Virginia. Virginia must remain one of the top ten states in which to do business. We accomplish this goal by protecting our “right to work” policies, keeping corporate taxes low, expanding enterprise zones and expanding opportunities for workforce development programs.

Jobs: Allowing the free enterprise system to operate by reducing outdated regulations, working with localities to allow flexibility in home-based business initiatives, and creating tax incentives for start-up enterprises are several ways we can put people to work in Virginia. For example, we have amended the code to allow for the growth of industries such as Virginia wineries. This legislation, coupled with initiatives to promote agri-tourism, have created jobs and drawn tourists to the Commonwealth.

Workforce Development: Workforce development is an area of our educational planning that must be addressed. Virginia must offer the education to provide a highly skilled workforce if we are to attract high paying jobs. This is vitally important to young adults graduating from high school who need to go directly into the workplace. I support opportunities to introduce manufacturing, technical and medical skills into high school and community colleges. I highly commend Thomas Nelson Community college for leading the state in this effort.

2. On a statewide level, what challenges do you think need to be addressed in the next legislative session? How would you address them?

Three main issues dominating the 2016 session will be passing a balanced budget on time, implementing education reforms, and delivering mental health reforms.

The budget: We are expecting a little good news concerning growth in the economy. Economic recovery often allows restoration of funding for areas that were previously cut. Education and Medicaid spending account for approximately half of state spending. Medicaid expenses continue to rise; however, economic growth provides an opportunity to restore funding for education. An additional challenge will be funding waivers for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Due to federal rulings, Virginia must make great strides in providing resources for these individuals and families.

Education: Throughout the summer, committees composed of bi-partisan representatives from the House of Delegates and the Senate along with school administrators, teachers, and experts in education met to discuss educational reforms concerning the SOLs and the SOQs. During a November summit, recommendations proposed by these experts will be made to the House Education Committee. As Vice Chairman of the Education Committee, I support efforts to reduce unfunded state mandates to the localities regarding SOQs and SOLs by allowing the localities—including teachers—to participate in rewriting the standards and test criteria.

Mental Health Reforms: Virginia faces federal guidelines requiring mental health reforms. Expanding patient care into the communities is one of these federal mandates. As a member and former Chairman of the Virginia Disability Commission, I have firsthand knowledge of these challenges. In 2014, I authored legislation bringing the Virginia code into compliance with federal housing laws to facilitate the establishment of group homes across the state. I also authored the budget amendment to fund Colonial Behavioral Health’s Crisis Intervention Team at Doctors Hospital. This center provides immediate care for individuals suffering a mental health crisis.

3. In 2014, a prolonged dispute over whether to accept federal Medicaid dollars as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act brought the state to the verge of a shutdown. In the 2015 legislative session, the issue received little attention. Will you advocate to accept the federal money or do you believe the decision not to accept the funds should remain? Explain your answer.

I continue opposing Medicaid expansion because I believe the system requires serious reform. More than fourteen states that have expanded Medicaid have witnessed costs double or triple their expectations. As a result, these states are cutting spending in other areas.  Currently, Virginia’s Medicaid program is growing by 8% a year, a figure much higher than our revenue growth. This natural expansion is due to businesses cutting back work hours and benefits, thereby creating newly eligible citizens. Also adding to the expansion are citizens who were previously eligible but never enrolled. These individuals are now enrolling due to the threat of Obamacare mandated fines. I will continue to support increased funding for our hospitals and healthcare safety net providers who deliver healthcare to those in need.

4. Talk about your philosophy for how – or if – the state should fund public education. Be specific to these phases: pre-K, K-12 and higher education.

I believe the state has a duty to continue to fund education. Currently the state share for education funding is 55% with a local share of 45%.  I support efforts to reform the state unfunded SOQ mandates to allow the localities flexibility in their spending and backfilling prior cuts to help take the some of the burden off of the localities. I support the recent recommendations of a Joint Committee report on the Virginia Preschool Initiative. Recommendations include:

  • increasing accountability, flexibility, and innovation
  • clarification of the state’s role and policy relating to providing preschool for economically disadvantaged children
  • further development the facilitation of partnerships between school divisions and private providers for the Virginia Preschool Initiative

The committee will also review and consider possible recommendations regarding the development of a competency-based professional development framework for early childhood teachers in public schools and early learning practitioners in private early learning settings.

K-12: I am a firm believer in a focus on phonics in all reading programs, especially when children are young. This includes pre-k through all elementary grades. I support expanding funding in this area. I am also very concerned about improving graduation rates in Virginia, and I am supportive of mentoring programs such as Project Discovery. During each legislative session, I introduce a budget amendment to fully fund this worthy program.

Higher Ed: I support all efforts to reduce tuition increases at our state supported universities. Additionally, I believe the General Assembly must expand efforts to ensure that in-state students are accepted at these schools.

5. Why are you the best person to represent the constituents of the 96th District?

I believe I am the best candidate for the job because I am always accessible to constituents, and I prioritize constituent services. Session is only a few weeks out of the year, but serving as an effective and responsive representative is a full-time undertaking. Also, I am part of a diverse sub-population in the House: I am a women, and I am not an attorney. I bring a perspective based on my life experiences. I am a wife and a mother of five grown children. Additionally, over an eleven-year period, I worked within the court system to serve as a foster parent to twenty children. Lastly, I have worked in the public policy process for over twenty-two years, moving conservative issues or supporting conservative candidates at a grassroots level.

I subscribe to a vision of our country embodied in the writings of our founding documents. My door is always open, and I will continue to be available. I will be consistent and considerate and never make promises I cannot keep. My word is my bond.