This week was budget week at the General Assembly. In addition to addressing roughly 2,300 pieces of legislation this session, the General Assembly must pass a biennial budget for 2014-2016 spending levels.
I am pleased to report that the House has presented a fiscally responsible budget that is structurally balanced and invests in the core functions of government that best meet the needs of Virginia citizens.
The House Budget
The House budget proposal is a responsible, conservative proposal that focuses on saving first and spending second.
The budget adopted by the House sets aside over $380 million in two state savings accounts. It also targets key investments in core functions of government, such as education, public safety, transportation, and health services. Its top emphasis is on K-12 and higher education, mental health services, hospitals and healthcare, and Virginia’s state employees. The budget adopted by the House does not include any provisions for Medicaid expansion.
The budget that passed in the House includes an additional $530.9 million for K-12 public education. This investment, combined with numerous reforms passed over the last few years, will help provide teachers with the tools necessary to provide our children with a high quality education. This additional funding for students, teachers, and our school systems accounts for approximately 25% of the new spending in the budget. A majority of the funds will help cover increased contributions to teacher retirement funds and teacher health care benefit premium rates. $25 million will be used for new school construction loans. $7.5 million will go towards reading and math initiatives, the Teach for America program, and National Board Certification bonuses for teachers.
The House budget also commits over $210 million for higher education, including funding for more in-state tuition spots and funding to help moderate tuition costs. We are continuing our commitment to help keep college affordable for all Virginia families.
The House budget includes targeted investments in the area of healthcare and mental health as well. To look out for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens, it includes 50 new ID and 15 new DD waivers, as well as $48 million for mental health access, treatment, and services. The budget also includes over $118 million in inflation adjustments for our hospitals and $111 million for our nursing homes to help support our hospitals for the indigent care services they provide.
We also value our state employees for their service to the Commonwealth and want to reward them for their hard work. If Virginia’s economy continues to grow, and we meet our revenue projected costs, the revenue reserve will be used to provide a 2% bonus, effective July 2015, to state employees.
Every budget is a compromise, and no budget proposal satisfies everyone or everything. This budget is not perfect, but I do believe it is a good starting point for negotiations. Like Virginia families, the General Assembly, by law, must balance its budget each year, and we must set priorities. This budget does that. Keep in mind that this is not the final budget and it may look very different when the budget conferees of both the House and Senate finish their work.
Status of Medicaid Expansion
One of the main reasons that I supported the House budget is that it is currently the only budget that does not contain Medicaid expansion. Therefore, it was critical that the House pass this budget to get it into conference.
The House has been very clear that we do not think Virginia is ready to move forward with Medicaid expansion. Last year, both parties in the House and Senate agreed to a process that would remove the issue of Medicaid expansion from the budget.
I personally do not believe that budget negotiations should be preconditioned on Medicaid expansion, which is exactly what the Senate budget does. They have unfortunately brought Washington-style politics to Virginia’s budget process.
The Senate is holding Virginia hostage to Medicaid expansion; this includes funding for teachers, rescue personnel, police officers, state employees, hospitals, colleges, and much more. This is completely unacceptable. The House of Delegates will hold strong against expansion. We must improve the services for current recipients before we even consider expansion. MIRC must be allowed to finish the job they started.
Virtual Education Update
Last week I provided a detailed look into several pieces of virtual education legislation that passed in the House. This includes my House Bill 324, which establishes a new Virtual Virginia School and creates a Board of the Virginia Virtual School as a policy agency under the Secretary of Education (SOE). This bill was heard today in the Public Education subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health committee.
The subcommittee expressed some concerns regarding the funding with this legislation, and would like for the Senate Finance committee to get involved in this legislation during the interim. They continued the bill until the 2015 Session, and will request that the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Health write a letter to the Senate Finance chairman to request that they get involved in the ongoing discussion surrounding this bill.
Though this isn’t what I had hoped for, I still consider it a success. The bill is still alive, and the discussions will be ongoing throughout the interim. I am hopeful that we can finally resolve some of the funding questions with this bill and find a piece of legislation that can gain bipartisan support in the 2015 Session.
We have tallied the results of our 2014 Legislative Survey. We have mailed the results to those of you who took the survey. For those of you who did not and are interested, you can see the results online here.
We were once again glad to see a number of visitors from home.
James Gibson stopped by representing the Virginia Government Employees Association. Dennis Burnett from the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and Greg Hitchen, Director of Economic Development in Waynesboro also stopped in for a visit.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit with students from Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro, who were in town for Model General Assembly, as well as Patricia Via and representatives from the Waynesboro Women’s Club.
There are only two weeks left until the end of the 2014 General Assembly Session. This is still plenty of time to visit. If you’re in Richmond over the next two weeks please feel free to stop by!
Appointments are not required, but they are appreciated. To make an appointment call Savanna at 804-698-1020.
While we are in Session, we will be operating out of our Richmond Office. To contact us in Richmond, please call 804-698-1020. You can also reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov. If you would like to send written correspondence, you can mail it to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218. You can also fax it to 804-698-6720.
While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.
We look forward to hearing from you!
As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.