In recognition of reaching crossover, I am going to be doing the newsletter in three parts. The first will be about the proposed Senate budget, the second will cover a couple of big policy matters I have tackled this year, and the third about the bills I have remaining.
Candidly, the budget deliberations are setting up how I feared they would when session began. The Governor’s billion-dollar tax cut, on top of the $4 billion in cuts we agreed to last June, has been adopted by the House of Delegates. If, like last year, the House insists on sticking with the Governor, we could see the session go into overtime again. That is not necessary. If tax cuts are a good idea, those who favor them should run on the Senate’s refusal to go along in this year’s election. For our part, we don’t think that $1 billion in tax cuts is good policy or good politics. There is plenty of need in Virginia that has gone unmet for years, and we have a chance to make progress this year. The Senate budget accomplishes that goal.
For example, coming into this session, we knew we were $400 million short of funding for Standards of Quality for K-12 education. We have been failing to invest in the future of our young people and our communities. On top of that, we found out just last week that the Administration has shorted localities another $201 million in money for our schools. Combined with what was in the Governor’s introduced budget, the Senate budget released on Sunday invests a total of $1 billion in new money in K-12 education, including a 7% raise for teachers and staff on July 1 and $100 million for school construction. We are taking serious steps towards building the best K-12 education system in the country.
In addition, we make significant investments in mental health. We plan to raise the pay for those who work at Community Services Boards, to raise reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers to entice more people to provide services, and to invest $50 million in long-term supportive housing. We expand the Virginia Mental Health Access program to early childhood and provide more funding for crisis centers.
In the Senate, we have demonstrated consistent support for expanding permanent supportive housing for years. The data show having a home, a place without time limits and with adequate support, provides the best chance for stability and success. Our system of care should have robust community-based services and treatment for people who live with mental illness. We have underfunded and neglected that system for decades, and I am committed to continue moving Virginia in the right direction.
On other health issues, the Senate includes funding to set up the Prescription Affordability Board and to support the Virginia Perinatal Quality Initiative. The Senate also funds the Cover All Kids Program, to ensure every child has access to healthcare regardless of immigration status. The Senate also includes an additional 500 developmental disability waiver slots, and contingent funding for another 500.
Other major initiatives include providing
- $10 million for community-based violence prevention programs, to try and address the gun violence epidemic we are facing.
- $74 million for bonuses and an additional 2% salary increase for state employees (for a total of 7%), state-supported local employees, and faculty and graduate TAs at our colleges and universities
- $2.45 million to manage invasive species and protect our native natural resources.
I also want to highlight some other funding items of local interest in the Senate budget. The Senate included vital funding for the Jefferson School – African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville and the Nelson County Heritage Center. The Senate also recognizes the need in our region for an all-abilities playground for children and provides funding to support the establishment of Bennett’s Village in Charlottesville. The budget also included money for vocational programming and transitional housing support for the Judge Jay T. Swett Learning Center. I also worked to provide funding to the City of Charlottesville to help build a pedestrian bridge to connect the Dogwood Veterans Memorial to an accessible parking lot and to our local trail system. The Senate also included my amendments to provide funding to the University of Virginia to expand the new Student Health and Wellness facility and to support the new Center for the Arts.
The House and Senate will be voting today on their respective budgets (see Senate Bill 800 and House Bill 1400). The budget bills will cross over to the other chamber. SB 800 will be left in committee, and HB 1400 will become the vehicle for the budget. You can view all of the member requested budget amendments and the approved amendments here. Summaries of amendments by subject matter are available here.