With only one week left things are definitely starting to wind down in Richmond. Though much of our work is behind us, we still have to complete work on the budget before we can adjourn. This is arguably the most important task that we have.
Though no agreement has been reached yet, I understand that the conferees have made some progress in reducing the differences in spending between the two budgets. What began as a $40 million difference in spending priorities has been reduced to $26 million in a week. Unfortunately the debate over Medicaid expansion has continued to impede real progress.
I’m proud of the priorities that the House has put forth in their budget. We have adopted a budget that includes limited creation of new programs, sets aside funds for our savings accounts and emergencies, and invests in core functions of government that will continue to help and strengthen middle class families across Virginia.
As I walk through a few more proposals in the House budget, please remember that at this time these items are still subject to change. While they have passed in the House, they have not yet been agreed to by the conference committee. Until the conference report by the budget conferees is adopted, all budget proposals are subject to change.
Jobs and Economic Growth
During the economic downturn jobs and economic growth have been a top priority in the budget process, and they have remained a priority this year.
To support our efforts of growing the economy, the House budget includes $11.8 million for the Governor's Opportunity Fund. This fund assists in the creation of jobs by securing a business relocation to the Commonwealth and helping with expansion projects for existing Virginia businesses.
Many times over the last few years we have seen the impact of this fund in expansions in the Valley, and I hope we will continue to see this in the future.
During times of economic difficulty we have had to borrow from the Virginia Retirement System to help maintain a balanced budget. A top priority in this budget is to meet the responsibility of the Commonwealth to state employees by fully funding the pension system. This budget will restore 100% of the required rates by 2016, three years earlier than required.
In addition, if Virginia’s economy remains strong and we meet our revenue projections, a revenue reserve will be used for a state employee 2% pay raise in July of 2015.
Keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe creates a better quality of life for all Virginians. The budget passed by the House adds $7.1 annually for our local police departments. I am hopeful that this increased funding will allow them the personnel and resources they need to keep our communities safe.
Rainy Day Fund
One of the most important things we can do to help families across Virginia is ensure that Virginia is in a sound financial position should the economy once again take a downward turn.
To combat any negative impacts of slowed growth, $243 million has been allotted for a Rainy Day Fund deposit that brings the fund to over $900 million.
In addition, $140 million has been set aside for a revenue reserve fund to absorb any potential future revenue reductions.
Special Election in House District 100
This week also saw an election with significant implications for a key Session issue – Medicaid expansion. On Tuesday, a special election was held for the House seat recently vacated by Senator Lynwood Lewis. House District 100, a district held by a Democrat the last 10 years and won by President Obama and Senator Kaine in 2012 elections, gave Republican Robert Bloxom a big win.
This election was of particular importance in Virginia because the main issue throughout the campaign was the candidates’ opposing views on Medicaid expansion. The Democratic candidate supported Medicaid expansion, while Republican Rob Bloxom was adamantly against expansion. Bloxom won by 20 percentage points, and brought House Republicans to 68 members, a historic high.
The voters spoke loud and clear in this election - reject Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Voters do not support Governor McAuliffe and the Democrat Senate’s tactics of putting expansion language in the budget. This puts funding for all other core functions in jeopardy. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, and agencies statewide are counting on an on-time Virginia budget.
I would like to remind those of you who are interested that we have tallied and published the results of our 2014 Legislative Survey. You can see the results online here.
Though things are wrapping up here in Richmond, we were still pleased to see a number of visitors this week from the 20th District.
On Tuesday, we welcomed Rocco DeVito and members of the Blue Ridge Deaf Senior Citizens group from Staunton. Though I was unable to personally meet with them, I was pleased to have the opportunity to see them in the Gallery and introduce them from the floor. You can see video of the introduction online here.
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to spend some time with Erin Hagedorn, Tory Selmer, and several student representatives from the Kate Collins Middle School Student Government Association. It was great to talk to them and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.
We also were able to meet Wednesday with representatives from Columbia Gas in Staunton, and Savanna was able to meet with Dr. Scott Just from Augusta Health.
I was able to meet with Jim Harrington of the Staunton City Council along with some of his colleagues from Mary Baldwin College. Jean Shrewsbury, Augusta County Commissioner of the Revenue, also stopped by for a visit.
There is only one week left in the 2014 Session, but there is still time for you to visit. If you plan to be in Richmond next week feel free to stop by!
Appointments are requested but not required. To schedule an appointment please 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.