General Assembly Update: State Budget

 

Dear Friend,

The House of Delegates will convene at 10 am today to complete one of our final actions of the 2020 session: adopting the state budget. As promised in my most recent email update, I wanted to break down a number of key points in this year’s budget.

As a reminder, the Constitution of Virginia requires a balanced budget. Unlike Washington, the state government cannot simply print more money. The budget under consideration covers July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2022. You can read more about the budget process by clicking here.

I’ll break down my comments in a few sections, largely coinciding with the several of the major sections of the state budget.


Capital Outlay

This portion of the budget contains the nuts and bolts of state government, including debts and cash reserve funds. Importantly, this budget would:

  • Boost reserve funds to historic levels–approximately $2 billion–guarding against future economic downturn
  • Reduces state debt by $500 million from the Governor’s proposal
  • Leaves $13.7 million in the unappropriated balance

The structural integrity of this budget is important, and it’s something that I worked diligently on.


K-12 Education

As a retired teacher, I’ve always taken an interest in education matters at the General Assembly. The budget has a larger impact on public education than any bill coming out of the legislature.

This year’s budget sends $1.4 billion in state funds towards public education. That dollar amount is $86 million greater than what was proposed by Governor Northam in his initial budget requests.

Of that allocation, money is set aside for two 2% pay raises for teachers–one in 2020 and one in 2021. This comes after teachers were granted a 5% raise last year. I am glad that teachers were provided raises rather than one-time bonuses.

The state budget will also provide funding for early childhood education, focusing on public-private partnerships to help ensure that children have a strong learning foundation. Additional funds are set aside to assist local school divisions with hiring additional school counselors. Finally, the budget includes proceeds from the Lottery to assist with capital projects including school repairs/renovations and purchasing new buses.


Higher Ed

Last year House Republicans led the way in freezing college tuition for students. The response was overwhelmingly positive. On the campaign trail, I constantly heard from students and parents alike that the tuition freeze should be extended. As I worked to negotiate the higher ed portion of the budget, this was a top priority. I’m pleased to report that the state budget will contain a tuition freeze for the second year in a row. Funding in the budget was also included for financial aid for in-state students.

Other key higher ed budget items include:

  • Increased funding for HBCUs, including Virginia State University
  • Partially reverses Governor’s cuts to Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program that would have disproportionately impacted online learners at Liberty University

Health & Human Resources

Longtime readers of my email newsletters will be somewhat familiar with the ID/DD waiver system. In short, these Medicaid waivers help Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities obtain the services they need. I’ve long fought to fund additional waiver slots to ensure that all Virginians can “live a life like yours.”

The budget includes funding for an additional 250 waiver slots in FY 2022 (July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022). Money is also included in the budget to raise personal care rates to ensure that quality care attendants are receiving the necessary compensation to stay in the field.


Compensation

In addition to the two 2% raises for teachers, the budget makes several compensation related adjustments for state employees and state-supported local employees. These include:

  • 2% raise in 2020 and 3% raise in 2021 for State Police
  • 3% bonus in 2020 and 2% raise in 2021 for state employees
  • 2% bonus in 2020 and 3% raise in 2021 for state-support local employees
  • Includes funding for compression pay for state troopers, corrections officers, and local social services employees

My Concerns

This isn’t the budget that Republican would have written if we held the majority. While I’ve noted a number of more positive aspects of the budget, I do have a few concerns that I’d like to mention.

The budget makes use of several tax increases adopted by House and Senate Democrats earlier in the year. These include an increase in the gas tax and a doubling of the tobacco/cigarette tax, both of which I opposed. The budget also eliminates the taxpayer relief fund that was set up last year and instead uses that money for government spending.

And oddly enough, the good economy is of concern. We know that the booming economy sadly won’t last forever. The large amount of money coming into the state’s coffers have allowed the Democratic majority ample funds to govern with. But when the economy takes a downturn in the future, it will be tough to balance the budget.


Closing Thoughts…

Like I noted above, it’s not the budget that I would have drafted by any means. But it does contain a number of proposals advanced by Republicans over the course of our twenty year majority.

As one might imagine, the state budget is rather large. I haven’t covered every budget item in this newsletter. If you have a question about something not covered above, send me an email to DelKCox@house.virginia.gov. You can also access the full budget by visiting www.budget.lis.virginia.gov.

As always, it remains an honor to represent our community in the House of Delegates. If I can be of service to you or your family, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Kirk Cox