The Virginia General Assembly finished its work for the 2016 legislative session a day early and adjourned a “long” 60-day session where we made progress on many issues but fought bitterly on several others. Because the improving economy has led to increased revenue collections, we were able to invest in critical areas and make a sizable deposit to our Rainy Day Fund without increasing taxes.
The two-year budget that we sent to Governor McAuliffe adds more than $1 billion in education funding at all levels, with increases of $4.9 million in Arlington, $4.0 million in Alexandria and $30.5 million in Fairfax. The budget restores $34 million for Northern Virginia’s cost of living adjustment for school staff and sets aside $134 million for the state share of a 2 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers. Meanwhile, all state employees including faculty at public colleges and universities will see a 3 percent pay raise. An additional $104 million will go to higher education, not including $56 million more for financial aid that will help more people attend college and better prepare themselves for entering the workforce.
Other funding includes $36 million for GO Virginia, the new regional economic development initiative; $13 million for workforce certification; and $6 million to expand access to mental health services. We were also able to deposit $606 million into our Rainy Day Fund to safeguard against future economic downturns.
It is sad and extremely frustrating that Republicans again refused to accept $1.5 billion per year in federal Medicaid funds that could be providing much-needed medical services to working Virginians.
There were some ugly fights this session, including the protracted battle over Governor McAuliffe’s Supreme Court appointee, former Fairfax Judge Jane Roush. A major twist emerged in the final days of session when Senate Republicans nominated controversial former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the state’s highest court. Within 24 hours of Cuccinelli’s nomination, thousands of Virginians emailed and signed petitions to their legislators in opposition. In part due to the swift backlash, Cuccinelli’s name was removed from consideration. However, the person Republicans nominated next, Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough, worked for Cuccinelli in the Attorney General’s office. McCullough’s nomination was rushed through in less than 24 hours and he was elected to the Supreme Court for a 12-year term. I strongly supported the continuation of Justice Roush’s service on the Court. Prior to Roush, no Governor’s interim appointee had been removed from the bench for over 100 years.
The General Assembly also clashed on whether or not to allow the electric chair to be used in capital punishment cases when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. I oppose the death penalty in all forms and particularly find it unconscionable to revert to the electric chair.
We return to Richmond on April 20 to consider the Governor’s amendments and vetoes.
It is my continued honor to represent the 30th Senate District.