The 2022 Session of the General Assembly convened on January 12th at noon. This is a year of great change as we inaugurate a new governor tomorrow, and there is a new majority in the House of Delegates. After the Democrats held the governor’s office for the past eight years, Republican Glenn Youngkin will succeed Ralph Northam. The Democrats held the majority in the House of Delegates for two years, and now the Republicans hold a slender 52-48 majority. The test of the session will be how well the slender Democratic majority in the Senate gets along with the slender Republican majority in the House, and how a governor, who has no previous experience in state government, folds into that mix.
The Virginia General Assembly met for the first time in Jamestown as the House of Burgesses in 1619 and is the oldest continuously meeting legislative body in the western hemisphere. We have wavered between the parties over the years, but we have always managed to work together on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth. I am hopeful the 2022 Session will continue in that tradition.
We start off at a pretty good place. The budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, the first six months of 2022, has an unrestricted year-end balance of $5.7 billion. From that amount, we must make some constitutionally-required deposits into the Rainy Day Fund, the Reserve Fund, and the Water Quality Improvement Fund. Nonetheless, beginning our budget discussions with a surplus rather than a deficit allows significantly more flexibility. The next biennial budget, which covers July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024, also starts from a good position.
The budget consists of two general categories of funding. First, is the general fund (GF), which is composed primarily of income tax and sales tax revenue. The budget each year is built on revenue forecasts. We typically see more modest growth in this area of the budget, but with the surplus and continued growth, we have an opportunity to invest in many areas that have been underfunded over the years. The projected GF revenues for the upcoming biennium are $32.1 billion in the first year and $28.8 billion in the second.
The second category of funding is nongeneral funds (NGF). Those funds are designated for specific purposes, like the Transportation Trust Fund dollars that flow from the federal government or gas tax dollars that are directed entirely to maintaining our roads. Even child support money that is collected by the Division of Child Support Enforcement and disbursed to families is included in the budget. The projected NGF revenues for the upcoming biennium are $88 billion in the first year and $77 billion in the second.
Virginia is a success story compared to states around the country from a budgetary standpoint and has been rated by CNBC as the best state to do business in the country for the second straight year. We have maintained a AAA bond rating. We begin this budgeting cycle from a positive revenue standpoint, which means we will need to make some important decisions in the coming weeks. We are in a place where we can legitimately talk about providing tax relief to Virginians. However, we are also in a place where there is incredible unmet need.
Compared to other states, we are ranked 26th in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries and below the national average in per pupil spending. Over 40 percent of our public school buildings are at or above capacity, and half of our school facilities were built over 50 years ago. We have a mental health system that, for every step forward we have taken, we have lost a step during the pandemic. We are 40th in the country in access to a trained mental health workforce and 37th in overall access to treatment. Our Medicaid reimbursement rates need significant adjustments, including the dental care rate that has not been changed for 16 years. The State Police have a longstanding issue with salary compression and are facing high vacancy rates, and overall our pay for sheriffs, jail, and corrections officers are lagging. We also have more work to do to help the Chesapeake Bay in terms of repairing or replacing outdated infrastructure and providing assistance to farmers. We cannot ignore the inability of the Virginia Employment Commission to handle the unemployment crisis last year and the continued difficulties with accessing the new system and benefits. It is within this context that we begin budget discussions.
In even years, when a new biennial budget is introduced, the legislature meets for a long, 60-day, session. We are scheduled to adjourn on March 12. In that time, we have to deal with thousands of bills and reach agreement on a balanced budget.
Within the 60 days, we are governed by a procedural resolution with strict timelines and rules that direct our conduct. We cannot wait until the last second to get things done. We have to consider the bills in an orderly fashion, which promotes an atmosphere in which we can work together. That is what the procedural resolution is all about.
My priorities have not changed. Among the bills I will be carrying are ones introduced on behalf of the localities I represent, bills to further my work to build a system of mental health care that works for people in need, and some addressing our election laws. The General Assembly is also tasked this year with electing two new justices for the Supreme Court of Virginia.
It continues to be an honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If you have any questions about any of this process or if I can be of service to you or your family, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our office can also be reached at (804) 698-7525. Please know that for the first time ever, we have begun the legislative session without an administrative assistant. The Senate has experienced the same hiring difficulties we are seeing across other industries, so be sure to leave a message if my staff is unable to answer the phone.
This promises to be a busy session, and I’m ready to get to work. I look forward to hearing from you.