Some of the most important work of the session was accomplished this week as we voted on the 2016-2018 Biennial Budget and many budget amendments yesterday in order to advance the process of placing the House budget proposal into conference with the Senate. Under the Virginia Constitution, no expenditures of any nature by the Commonwealth can occur unless pursuant to a balanced and approved budget. Unlike in Washington, you will never see our Virginia state government operating under a "continuing resolution" or other similar devices.
The Budget Bill
The House of Delegates passed its budget proposal yesterday on a highly bipartisan vote of 98-2, with one Republican and one Democrat voting “No.” The House-approved budget is fiscally conservative and structurally balanced with no new fees or tax increases. We have once again prioritized the core functions of government with our focus and increased funding for education (both K-12 and higher education), and emphasis on economic development, while providing funding to combat domestic violence and strengthen the healthcare safety net. You can access HB 30, our House-approved 2016-2018 Biennial Budget and its amendments here.
K-12 education funding from the state will increase from $7.1 to $7.7 billion between 2016 and 2018. Higher education funding includes funding for increased access for in-state undergraduate students and affordability. General fund spending for higher education in the House-passed budget is $1.77 billion in 2017 and $1.82 billion in 2018. This compares to $1.59 billion in the current year. These increases are aimed at holding tuition increases at in-state universities to no more than 3 percent per year, although each university board and not the General Assembly, makes this decision.
Funding for mental health treatment centers throughout the state is $746 million for the 2016-18 period, an increase of 10 per cent from 2014-2016.
Transportation funding statewide for 2016-2018 is $13.4 billion, a 12 per cent increase in funding from 2014-16. Part of the transportation funding includes $140 million for widening I-66 eastbound inside the Beltway, with additional money available for I-66 improvements outside the Beltway. These two related projects are expected to reduce congestion in Northern Virginia in a way that adds approximately 100,000 hours of time back into the lives of Northern Virginians each business day. These I-66 projects are expected to be completed by 2020 or 2021.
Voting in the House of Delegates
Another area of the budget that is important to our 10thDistrict is the proposed $2.43 Billion bond package funding for Virginia’s state parks, as well as appropriations for the Virginia Battlefield Preservation and Virginia Land Conservation Funds. I am still hopeful that some of these bond funds will be allocated to capital improvements and to purchase additional lands for a new state park in far northwestern Loudoun County.
As we adopted our House Budget, the Senate adopted its budget. There are a number of differences between these two budget proposals that the twelve House and Senate budget conferees (six from each legislative body) will reconcile. Hopefully, these budget conferees will complete their work so that both houses of the General Assembly can approve the Budget well before our March 12, 2016 scheduled adjournment date. It is important that we complete our work and send the Budget Bill to the Governor soon, so that all who depend on the Commonwealth Budget for support, such as our teachers, state employees, law enforcement officers, and local governments may be able to plan accordingly.
In other legislative matters this week, we in the House have been considering Senate bills and amendments and the Senate has been doing the same with our legislation. Eight of my bills have passed the Senate unanimously since Crossover last week, and one has already gone to the Governor. You can access the status of my legislation here.
The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership is Seeking Qualified Youth
Deadline: Monday, March 7
The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia is accepting applications for its 2016 College Leaders Program and High School Leaders Program. I am a Sorensen alumnus and strongly support the Sorensen Institute's goals of promoting trust, civility, and respect in public service. The practical skills and political knowledge gained in this program allow participants to become effective advocates in government and business. If you know of any high school or college students in your community who might be interested, please encourage them to consider applying for the program. The deadline is Monday, March 7, at midnight. You can access the Sorensen Institute’s applications here.
“My Door is Always Open”
It was great to have the Clarke County 4-H students visit us this week. 4-H is a remarkable program that teaches leadership skills to our youth as they engage in hands-on activities that foster good communication skills, the ability to work together, and manage their time and resources.
I had a good discussion with nursing professionals from the Inova Loudoun Nursing and Rehabilitation Center from Leesburg. This skilled nursing facility provides short and long term care with a range of rehabilitation programs which provide a continuum of care to meet the varied and changing needs of its residents. It is staffed with excellent, dedicated medical professionals who care about their patients and their community.
I welcomed my neighbors Ron Rogos and Tracy Coffing of Leesburg's Historic District to the General Assembly Building this morning and arranged for them to tour the Capitol. The tour guides at the Capitol are excellent. My staff is able to assist you if you plan a trip to our Commonwealth’s Capitol Square.
We have two weeks left in our 60-day “long” session. There is still much to do, especially in regard to finalizing the budget; however, the end is in sight.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.