The 2015 session of the General Assembly has come to a close and was capped off by passing a bipartisan budget—one day early. It is never an easy task to balance the budget of Virginia. Due to new found revenues, and some prudent corrections in 2014, the process went smoothly with some good news in areas that have been neglected in previous years. I voted for the bipartisan budget because it is fair, balanced, and it will help Virginia’s families who are trying to weather through this recovering economy.
The Budget Conferees working with Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments, produced a solid roadmap to growing our economy and expanding opportunities for all Virginians. Senate Democrats scored some important victories in the budget process. Most notably, we were able to keep public education whole while giving a pay increase to teachers, deputy sheriffs qualifying for food stamps, and state employees who have not had a meaningful increase since 2007.
Link to budget legislation.
Here are some highlights of the adjustments made to the 2014 - 2016 biennial budget.
Rainy Day Fund: We have set aside a $129.5 million repayment to the Rainy Day fund.
Protecting Public Education: Once again, we were able to preserve funding for public education. The House and Senate also agreed to set aside $537,297 for the “Breakfast After The Bell” pilot program. This initiative of First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, will fund school breakfasts in elementary schools where reduced lunch eligibility exceeds 45%. One million dollars was added for kindergarten readiness assessment.
Higher Education: Operating at below 2009 funding levels, we will see more than $41 million in funding, including $20.5 million to help our universities address enrollment growth, $14.4 million for a 2% faculty salary increase, and an additional $5.4 million for need-based undergraduate financial aid. (Need-based financial aid will total $8.9M). The budget calls for a one-time payment of $141.4 million for capital outlay projects and $52.9 million in funding for school construction loans.
Pay Raise For State Employees and Teachers: As previously noted, the House and Senate were able to agree on a 2% pay raise for state employees and to include $52.9 million for the state’s share of a 3% pay raise for teachers, splitting the cost evenly with the localities. An additional $1.2 million has been added to the General Fund to increase the base pay for Virginia’s deputy sheriffs.
Governor’s Access Plan: The budget passed by the General Assembly will fund the Governor’s Access Plan, which Governor McAuliffe established last year. The Governor’s Access Plan will provide medical and behavioral health services to 22,000 individuals with serious mental illness.
Health and Human Services: The final product will fund the key components of the Healthy Virginia Program, including dental coverage for pregnant women and health coverage for the children of low-income state employees. The budget allows for $3.1 million for free clinics that will expand services to 7,500 uninsured Virginians, and $1 million for community health centers. Additionally, a total of $750,000 was set aside to increase services for individuals with brain injuries.
Behavioral Health Services: Virginia will allocate an additional $9.2 million in funding for behavioral health services. The budget provides $2.1 million for supportive housing for 150 individuals with mental illness and $2 million to improve access to child psychiatry services. The budget includes $250,000 to help patients transition out of the Northern Virginia Training Center, which is very important to many families in our region.
Economic Development: The Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund, which is used to attract businesses to the Commonwealth, will receive $28.0 million and the fund will be able to retain any unspent balances. There will also be $500,000 in incentives set aside to encourage companies to hire veterans. We tried our best to make funds available to build a new Virginia economy and attract new jobs to our Commonwealth.
I want to thank everyone who contacted me during this session and stopped by my Richmond office. I will continue to keep you updated on the latest news from the General Assembly and look forward to seeing you in the community. The General Assembly will reconvene in the middle of April to take up amended legislation from the Governor.