Solid Mix Session Update

March 3, 2016

It’s hard to believe, but there are just two weeks left in the 2016 General Assembly session. This past week the House passed a new two-year spending plan. The budget is the most important work we do each year at the State Capitol. It sets the priorities for what services the Commonwealth will support over the course of the next two years.

With passage of the House and Senate budgets, the conferees from both bodies will work to craft a final agreement that can be sent to Governor McAuliffe. While there are some differences between the two plans, there are also many similarities. I’m confident completing our work on time should not be difficult this year.

The House produced a conservative and responsible state budget that holds the line on tax and fee increases. It reduces borrowing and prioritizes savings. We also make targeted investments in our schools, universities, economic development programs and the health safety net.

This is a structurally sound budget that deposits $605 million in the state’s rainy day fund, restoring the fund to 90% of its previous balance, saving for when there might be future economic downturns. The budget reduces what Virginia will borrow over the next few years by over $900 million compared to what Governor McAuliffe proposed. For our state employees, it offers a 3% salary increase in the first year of the biennium and makes good on our commitment to fully fund VRS contribution rates, two years ahead of schedule. In addition, it fully repays the VRS payments that were deferred during the worst of the recession. Finally, it eliminates the accelerated sales tax for 90% of businesses. This is an accounting gimmick that the General Assembly relied on during the recession, and I believe it’s prudent to phase it out.

Additional support for K-12 education has been a bi-partisan focus of crafting this budget. The House budget invests almost $70 million above and beyond the new funding the Governor proposed. It offers maximum flexibility for local school systems to meet their most urgent needs in the classroom by sending over $270 million additional lottery dollars back to school divisions, without requiring a local match.

The budget makes additional investments in higher education in order to help make college more affordable for Virginia families. $237 million is designated to hold tuition increases to three percent or less per year.

The House budget does not include Medicaid expansion. Just this week an AP story revealed the financial squeeze that expansion has placed on Kentucky’s budget. Their program faces a $611 million shortfall in the next two years. The Kentucky Health Secretary stated that the program is hemorrhaging, and she is working to identify cuts that can be made to other services in an attempt to make up for the shortfall. These outcomes that expansion states are experiencing are what my colleagues and I were concerned would occur if we chose to expand in the Commonwealth.

Instead of expanding the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, the House budget offers nearly $30 million additional dollars in targeted investments to strengthen our current safety net for those most in need. Among this funding is new support for substance abuse treatment and expanded services for patients with serious mental illnesses. In addition, the House budget provides for 100 additional Developmental Disability waiver slots beyond those required by the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement. This is always a strong priority, and I’m hopeful we can continue to build on this increase. These slots allow individuals to live and receive services in their community, rather than in an institution.

The budget funds strategic and targeted investments in economic development, while promoting increased accountability and oversight in coordination with our legislative priorities. New economic development funding is primarily directed to two initiatives, GO Virginia and the Virginia Research, Development and Commercialization Fund, both of which have strict accountability measures to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

Primary Day Tuesday!

I would like to offer a friendly reminder that Tuesday (March 1) is the Virginia Presidential Primary for both the Republicans and Democrats. Since we are earlier in the primary season calendar this year, we will have a more significant influence on the outcome of the nomination. Regardless of who you support, I encourage you to exercise your right to vote. The polls will be open from 6:00am until 7:00pm. You vote at your normal polling location.

Visitors this Week

I was pleased to have several great groups of visitors this week. Tuesday was 4-H Day at the Capitol. I also enjoyed meeting with local representatives of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Virginia Athletic Trainers Association. Thanks to everyone that has made the trip to Richmond thus far!

Contact Me

Throughout the remainder of session you can continue to contact my office in Richmond. We can be reached by phone at (804) 698-1026. You can contact me by email at [email protected].

If you would like to send written correspondence, please send it to P.O. Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate!