This past Sunday, the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees unveiled their $109 billion budget proposals for the upcoming biennium. Both budgets make changes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s introduced budget and will be reconciled by conferees over the coming weeks. Although both the House and Senate committee majorities disappointingly excluded Medicaid expansion, I was pleased to see that they do increase funding for other critical items like education and economic development.
Increasing funding levels for K-12 and higher education in Virginia is a bipartisan goal this session, and it has been one of the most-discussed topics at the town hall meetings I’ve held in recent weeks. Both the House and Senate budgets increase K-12 funding by about $900 million over current levels and include a 2 percent pay raise for teachers. The House and Senate budgets also appropriate $40.6 million and $32 million, respectively, over the biennium for Northern Virginia school divisions to help compensate support staff in light of the higher cost of living in our region. An additional $6.5 million per year is allocated in the Senate’s budget for an “At-Risk add-on” that would target school divisions with the greatest concentrations of students in poverty. With respect to higher education, the Senate budget would provide for a two percent faculty salary increase (effective Dec. 1) and the House version would limit tuition increases at state universities to three percent.
One of the Governor’s other key priorities is economic development. The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity in Every Region — funded by both budgets and better known as “GO Virginia” — includes over $32 million to mobilize a cross-section of private-sector, education, government and community leaders in each region of Virginia to work collaboratively for increased job creation and career readiness. GO Virginia promotes innovation through start-up grants for projects that utilize regional cooperation and leverage private and local investment. A portion of state tax revenues generated by new projects would be returned to regions where localities share economic development-related costs and revenues. GO Virginia legislation passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and represents an exciting step forward.
In terms of health care, the Senate budget adds $6.3 million to add 400 developmental disability waiver slots (also known as DD waivers) for individuals currently receiving other waiver services. DD waivers allow individuals and their families more choice in deciding what services they need and who will provide those services, and with thousands of Virginia families facing long waiting lists for services it is critical that this limited funding be preserved, or increased, in the final budget. I was also pleased to see the Senate budget allocate $15 million in additional funding for mental health services and $3.1 million to increase services for people with disabilities.
Two of the budget proposals I put forward were accepted, including $850,000 in funding to promote the development of unmanned aerial systems (drones). This rapidly emerging industry will bring good private-sector jobs as we continue to diversify Virginia’s economy. The Senate Finance Committee also adopted language I sought requiring private operators of toll lanes to provide the state with detailed information on how much money they are collecting in “civil penalties” and “administrative fees” from toll lane violators.
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It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.