House Passes a Fiscally Responsible Budget without Any Tax Increases
On Thursday, we passed the House version of the 2012-2014 biennial budget with a bipartisan vote of 79-21. Our structurally balanced budget makes strategic investments in the core areas of government that House Republicans have emphasized throughout the 2012 Session. This includes job creation in the private sector, increased education opportunities, protection of Virginia’s families, and increased efficiency in state government. Perhaps most importantly, we have made these targeted investments without increasing the tax burden on hardworking Virginia families or businesses.
During this time of continued economic uncertainty, our top priority continues to be job creation. In order to help create jobs throughout Virginia we have worked to extend a number of tax credits for Virginia businesses that are tied to job growth and capital investment. We believe that these will help to encourage business investment in Virginia. We have also extended the capital gains tax credit for investments in startup businesses to increase capital for small business job creators. To help Virginia farmers and expand Virginia’s largest industry, we have established an Agriculture and Forestry Development Fund with $2 million in funding to grow our world market. We also removed several proposed fee increases that hinder job creation.
In an effort to improve the educational opportunities available to Virginians, we added $575 million for K-12 public education and nearly $200 million for Virginia’s colleges and universities. The increase for public schools will provide funding for programs such as K-3 class size reductions and early reading intervention. Our $200 million investment in higher education follows on the “Top Jobs” higher education reform legislation passed with unanimous support in the 2011 General Assembly. Part of this funding will open an additional 1,700 slots for in-state students at William and Mary, University of Virginia, James Madison University, and Virginia Tech. We have also included funding to help our colleges expand degrees in the high demand fields- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health Care to support 21st century job growth.
In the area of protecting our families, we have added $14.8 million over the biennium for our sheriff departments. We have also included additional funding in the Department of Veterans Services to increase the number of veterans claims agents to help speed up the processing of veterans claims.
Protecting our families also includes ensuring our most vulnerable citizens have the care they need. Our budget restores many proposed cuts to the health safety net, including proposed cuts to free health clinics. We also have provided funding for 970 new Intellectual Disability waivers and 100 new Developmental Disability waivers. The waivers allow these citizens to live on their own or with family rather than being institutionalized.
In an effort to increase government efficiency, we have found a savings of $2.8 million in our legislative budget. In total, we were able to reduce agency budgets and return over $32 million to the General Fund over three years.
We have also tackled the Virginia Retirement System’s $19 billion unfunded liability, which has grown to be one of the biggest issues impacting this and future budgets. We have designated $2.2 billion towards paying down the unfunded liability. Along with several proposed reforms to the retirement system, this investment is a key step towards safeguarding the VRS for our current and future employees.
Finally, due to the fact that the growth of the national economy is still below expectations, we have added $300 million to increase our Rainy Day Fund to $600 million.
We have worked tirelessly to produce a budget that reflects our core principles and was pleased that eleven Democrats joined House Republicans in supporting the House budget.
While we have made significant progress in the budget thus far, there is still much work to be done. In the other chamber, Senate Democrats have unfortunately decided to obstruct progress on passing a budget simply for their own political gain. I believe Governor McDonnell and Lt. Governor Bolling said it best when they said, “This is not the Virginia way.” I call on the Senate Democrats to take a page from the House Democrat playbook and work with Republicans to help craft a fiscally responsible budget that makes strategic investments in the core areas of government instead of playing partisan political games.
We have received many calls and emails this week regarding House Bill 48, which codifies the Castle Doctrine. This bill is still being worked on. It was amended last week in the Senate to be conformed to Senate Bill 4, which is the Senate version of the Castle Doctrine. The house has rejected the Senate amendments at my request, and the legislation will be sent to a committee of conference. Conferees will be appointed from both the House and the Senate, and they will work to hammer out the differences in House Bill 48 and Senate Bill 4. I will certainly keep you updated as this bill continues its journey. I am hopeful that when all is said and done, we will have adopted a strong piece of legislation that protects the fundamental right of individuals to be able to defend themselves and their families in their own home.
Though it was a busy week, it seems that visitors from the district have slowed down. We did have an opportunity, however, to meet with the Student Advisory Council of the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia. In that council was a resident of Augusta County. It was a pleasure to meet with these young folks, and I’m sure that serving on the Student Advisory Council is a great experience for them.
Our office is currently operating out of our Richmond Office for the entirety of the 2012 Session. You can contact us here by phone at 804-698-1020, or by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.
If you’re in the Richmond area we’d love to see you. We make constituent visits a priority and do our best to meet with as many as possible. In order to help us accommodate you we encourage you to call and make an appointment.
We hope to hear from you while we are here. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to voice your opinion on key pieces of legislation that may impact the District or the Commonwealth, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thanks again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.