Bell Sounds from the 20th - Final Week

We have reached the end of the 2015 General Assembly session.  We are scheduled to adjourn Sine Die tomorrow, February 28, and we expect to do so on time if not sooner.

Yesterday, both the House and Senate passed the budget conference report.  Completing the work on the budget ahead of schedule is almost unheard of, and is a stark contrast to the way things are done in Washington.  This conference report will amend the 2014-1016 biennial budget, and passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.

I’ve already shared many of the highlights of the House budget proposal, many of which were included in the conference report.  While I realize some of this may be repetitive, I wanted to give you an update on the final budget.  

Like the House proposal, the budget bill we passed yesterday is conservative, responsible, and most importantly balanced and structurally sound.  It does not raise taxes on Virginia families, and actually spends $1 billion less from the general fund than last year’s originally-adopted budget.

The budget eliminates nearly $33 million in debt and $11.7 million in fees that were originally proposed by the Governor.  It also provides $43 million to shore up the Virginia Retirement System ahead of schedule and allows the Commonwealth to pay in cash for all college capital projects rather than borrowing outside of our means.

We also set aside $129.5 million for a rainy day fund deposit, and provided $27 million to the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.  This is money that the Governor is able to use to help incentivize new businesses or business expansions to come to Virginia.  We have seen the results of this throughout our area, and I’m glad that this money will still be available to bring more jobs to Virginia. 

Virginia has over 100,000 state employees who work each day to serve our Commonwealth. We have provided a 2% across the board raise for all state employees in an effort to recognize their good work.  We also have provided a 2% pay raise to the brave men and women that make up Virginia’s state police force and rolled back tough cuts to state police overtime. Each and every day they work to keep us safe and could not be more deserving of this raise. 

In an effort to ensure that our teachers and students are able to continue to succeed in the classroom, we have made targeted investments in K-12 education.  This includes funding the state portion of a 1.5% teacher pay raise and increased funding for professional development.  It also deposits $193 million into the teacher retirement fund.

This deposit into the teacher retirement fund not only helps ensure the solvency of the retirement system but also saves our local governments over $30 million in required teacher retirement costs.  We also restored nearly $30 million in funding cuts to our localities and provided the state portion of a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees.

In demonstrating our commitment to higher education, the General Assembly restored 94% of cuts to higher education that were adopted by the supplemental budget to address the shortfall.  We already know that we have some of the best colleges and universities in the country here in Virginia, and we are committed to ensuring that they are affordable and accessible to Virginia students.  We specifically targeted an additional $42 million in funding for higher education.  This includes $19.8 million to incentivize enrollment for in-state students, $10.1 for financial aid, and $5 million for faculty research.  We provided funding for a 2% faculty pay raise, and included a $1,000 per student incentive to encourage colleges and universities with low graduation rates to accept transfer students.  We hope that these investments will help our colleges and universities provide the best and most affordable education possible.

Once again, the budget passed does not include Medicaid expansion. It does, however, build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net for those who are most in need.  We invested $132.9 million for the healthcare safety net.  We specifically provided funding for targeted services, including a prescription drug benefit, to nearly 22,000 seriously mentally ill patients and increased funding for children’s psychiatry and crisis services.  We nearly doubled operational funding for free clinics, and funded behavioral health community services including three new PACT teams and six new drop-off centers.  We also provided a total of $9 million for housing and homelessness, with a portion of this specifically targeted for rapid rehousing of our homeless veterans.

I was pleased to be able to support this budget, and I commend our conferees for working in a bipartisan fashion to get this job done.

Legislative Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who took my 2015 Legislative Survey! The results of these surveys are very helpful to me in determing how to best represent my constituents during my time in Richmond.  For those of you who may be interested, I have published the results on our website. You can see the results here.

 Visitors

Despite more winter weather last weekend and throughout this week, we still had a few last visitors come by for a visit.  Courtland Robinson visited on behalf of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and the Staunton Economic Development Department. Additionally we were visited by a number of 4-H students from Augusta County.

Thank you so much to each and every one of you who dropped by during the 2015 Session. We are always glad to see friendly faces from home. Though the committee schedule does not always allow me to meet in person with all of you, I am grateful that you took time out of your schedules to stop by and talk to me or my staff about the issues that matter most to you.

Contact Us

Next week we will be transitioning back to our District office.

In the district, you can contact us by phone at 540-448-3999, or you can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

 

 

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