The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and The Potomac-Stafford Local in the week of March 14, 2016.
The State Budget: More for Schools, the Disabled, State TroopersLast week, I covered the good news in the state budget for the 36th Senate District. This week, I am detailing some of the important features of the state budget that help the entire state.First, the budget restores some honesty to the budgeting process. During the McDonnell Administration, the state skipped state employees' retirement plan contributions for two years and then promised pay missed contributions over a 10-year period with interest. I repeatedly voted “no” on those budgets, in-part, because they were an end run around our state constitution's requirement for a balanced budget. The proposed budget prepays all of the entire remaining obligations and funds 100% our recommended pension obligations for this biennium.Second, for elementary-secondary education, the we increased per pupil funding on a statewide basis from around $4,400 per child to over $4,900 per child, a 10% increase, and included a 2% pay raise for all teachers and support staff effective December 1. Virginia’s elementary-secondary education system has taken it on the chin for the last seven years, and we still have a long way to go – especially with lagging revenue increases at the local level.The state budget also boosts higher education $255 million, including over $55 million new funds for student loans and grants. The final budget rejected a 3% tuition increase cap, as some proposed, but state colleges and universities have been put on notice that tuition increases should be more modest. We are still funding higher education at only 50% of our goals.The proposed budget funds over 400 new developmental and intellectual disability waivers (in addition to those required by court orders). We agreed to provide modest increases in mental health funding, substance abuse treatment and funds to implement the “Fostering Futures” Program, a program that provides services to foster care children until they are 21.We upped Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance by 2.5% and are providing an additional $20 million to help provide other services to low-income families plus $10 million for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. The budget also anticipates the closing of Virginia’s juvenile detention facilities in favor of community-based placements.We approved funding for 20 vacant judgeships, more funding for court-appointed attorneys and $4 million in much-needed raises for district court deputy clerks. State employees are also going to see a 3% pay raise, and we are hiring 20 new state troopers – the first new trooper positions in over a decade.Finally, we made significant transportation investments, including $350 million in modernization of the Port of Virginia, $140 million to start designing the widening of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway and $50 million to help keep United Airlines at Dulles International Airport.The budget now awaits on the Governor’s action. As always, please email me with your views and suggestions at email@example.com.