The House and Senate agreed on a budget that includes employee pay raises and more money for K-12 education and mental health to adjourn the 45-day General Assembly session last week.
Negotiators from each chamber presented their budget to lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review. Senate did not adjourn until Saturday, the last day of the scheduled session.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies.
“This conference report responsibly addresses the challenges facing the commonwealth, prioritizes funding for our schools and public safety professionals, and is fiscally conservative,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County), co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The budget was approved early for the third consecutive year, which is a stark contrast to the U.S. Congress, which has been notoriously slow at approving federal spending plans.
“While Washington drowns in debts and is mired in gridlock, the Republican-led General Assembly has produced a conservative budget ahead of schedule for the third time in a row,” said Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta County, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“We continue to chart a prudent fiscal course for Virginia. The investments in education, health care and public safety will improve the lives of our citizens and make Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
The new budget allocates $83.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and college faculty, in contrast to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal for a one-time, 1.5 percent bonus to employees. The budget also sets aside funds to implement House Speaker William
Howell’s Commission on State Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform.
This means $200,000 will be set aside for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to complete a total compensation study of all state employees, and $140,000 for state agencies to incorporate succession planning and re-hiring in their strategic plans.
This year’s agreed-upon budget exceeds the governor’s investment in K-12 education by approximately $18 million, as well as investing $15 billion for direct aid to public education.
Before the 2010 budget, 35 percent of lottery proceeds were given to local schools. This year’s budget re-establishes that practice, and lottery proceeds will send $191.3 million back to localities to help with public education.
The budget also helps higher education by reducing the governor’s cuts by $20 million. This is part of the General Assembly’s continued effort to make higher education more affordable. The budget will also restore full funding to the Virginia Tech Extension Service, as well as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. In addition, there will be no reductions in funding to Norfolk State University and Virginia State University.
In the health sector, the conference budget invests $32.2 million to build a stronger healthcare safety net, including funding for substance abuse treatment. It also increases eligibility for the Governor’s Access Plan, which is a program that helps provide behavioral health for Virginia’s uninsured adults.
The conference budget does not include the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which might not end up having much of an impact anyway if the Trump administration’s proposal to replace Medicaid with federal block grants to each state is adopted.
The budget also restores the Stanley amendment, which doesn’t let the governor expand Medicaid without approval from the General Assembly.
The conference budget was created to decrease general-fund spending by 5 percent over 10 years when adjusted for population and inflation.