Commentary: Over $210 Million in New Funds Coming to the 36th District

Commentary: Over $210 Million in New Funds Coming to the 36th District

The last week of the 2016 General Assembly session brought a flurry of activity on some of our most difficult bills, along with approval of a state budget. In this column, I will detail highlights in the final budget affecting our area. Next week, I will report on other important budget items. In the near future, I will cover some of the more important legislation that we considered and the fight over the state Supreme Court. I will also let you know about my eight bills the Governor has signed or are awaiting his signature.

The legislature approved a final budget, including two of my amendments. First, I advocated for an additional $100,000 to fund the Virginia Star Program which provides refurbished computers to low-income, public school students. Prince William County’s public schools are using this program extensively in the U.S. 1 corridor. The final budget includes my complete request.

The new budget provides significant new funding for K-12 education over the biennium: Fairfax County, $87 million; Prince William County, $93 million; and Stafford County, $24 million. Given that our local schools are hundreds of millions per year behind, it is now up to local governments to fund their share.

Second, my proposal to boost appropriations to fund court-appointed attorneys passed. Virginia pays $120 per district court misdemeanor and between $445 and $1,235 for felonies, depending on whether they are “non-serious” or punishable by more than 20 years.

Lawyers can apply for waivers from these fees, but the court runs out of money every year in the spring. The General Assembly approved an additional $900,000 over the biennium. In jurisdictions that do not have public defender offices, such as Prince William County, these funds are critical to meet our Constitutional obligation to provide counsel to low-income people. This is the first increase in appropriations since the waiver system was adopted.

We also approved $7.5 million in funding for Phase I improvements for Widewater State Park in Stafford County. This will provide the only public water access to the Potomac River in Stafford County along with event facilities and ultimately campgrounds and cabins. I was pleased to help Del. Mark Dudenhefer who has been working on this for years.

My biggest disappointment was the failure to expand Medicaid, a change that could bring the state $40.5 million in federal funds per year, 800 jobs and healthcare to about 10,000 people in the 36th District. Sadly, politics continues to hold this up.

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