Commentary: Budget Plans Spotlight Priorities

Commentary: Budget Plans Spotlight Priorities

It’s only been a little over a week since the General Assembly adjourned and already the repercussions of not approving a budget are playing out in numerous negative ways. Working Virginians are left in limbo, worrying whether they will have critical access to affordable healthcare.

With no budget approved it is still very possible that Medicaid expansion, which was in the House-approved budget, and its enormous beneficial impact on our citizen’s health and the economy, may not materialize this biennium.

At the local level, cities and counties are presenting their budgets to the public without the knowledge and security of just how much support they can count on from the state. Here in Fairfax County, the FY2019 advertised budget is predicated upon an anticipated 23 percent of funding coming from Richmond and a meagre 1.5 percent from the Federal government; and that’s after the Feds took $5 million in Title I funding away from our county. This state budget drama affects us nationally too as Amazon considers where to locate its HQ2 and protracted budget fights threaten to lower our bond rating.

Governor Northam called the General Assembly back into special session to meet on April 11 and approve the budget with Medicaid expansion to extend health insurance to nearly 400,000 Virginians and a compromise agreement with Republicans to include work incentives.

The Legislature will not be allowed to consider any other bills or policies not sent down by the Governor.

This is something that, though we could have done it four years ago, allows the budget to include much needed raises to teachers and other state employees, possibly stimulating our economy with new millions of dollars that we have foregone for too long.

The biggest sticking point for the Republican senators, who currently are the reason for this budget impasse, is that this federal reimbursement could one day dry up. The House budget version adds a “kill-clause” that shuts the program down if such an unlikely scenario presents itself. Indeed, the Federal Government has never gone back on its Medicaid promise.

On Monday night, I and several other community members, attended a helpful and informative Fairfax County budget briefing to the community hosted by our Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck and Mount Vernon School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders. The new County Executive, Bryan Hill, gave a compelling presentation on the need for a small increase in the real estate tax rate to fully fund the presented budget.

Fairfax is one of the best-run counties in the nation as evidenced by the independent audit funded by the Commonwealth’s “Gibson Study” that found Fairfax is a model of best practices for other jurisdictions throughout Virginia.

Sanders explained that the budget is a reflection of the values of our community. Our County budget prioritizes paying our teachers a salary closer to the market average after accounting for performance, merit and longevity. It also adds $25 million to our county bond capacity, which speeds up school renovation by four years. It further prioritizes public safety, early childhood care, nursing services for medically fragile students, park support, and other critical county services.

The county has proposed a commonsense budget that reflects our community’s priorities and I will be their advocate in Richmond to fight for the money they need.