A friend once told me to look at your check book, and that will tell you where your priorities lie. The state budget is the Commonwealth’s checkbook. The General Assembly has seven days left in the scheduled 2014 Session and finalizing the budget is the last, and arguably the most important, task we have left.
I’m proud of this year’s House budget for two reasons. First, we take a conservative approach to budgeting by limiting the creation of new programs, and we set aside sufficient funds in the state’s savings accounts for emergencies. Second, we invest in the core functions of government that will help our middle class families.
Here are some of the highlights from Week 8 of the 2014 General Assembly Session:
College tuition has become incredibly costly. Tuition increases are pricing out the middle class families who are trying to send students to Virginia’s top public universities. Our House budget adds an additional $20 million to further moderate the growth of in-state undergraduate tuition and fee increases. This investment continues our efforts over the last 2 years that resulted in decade low tuition increases at around 4.5%. My hope is this year’s increases will be in the 3% range.
We are also including $6.2 million to add 1,700 additional in-state undergraduate slots at the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech. We want Virginia students to be able to afford and have access to Virginia’s world class colleges and universities.
Jobs and economic growth
Jobs and economic growth continue to be a top priority in our budgeting process. To support our efforts of growing the economy, the House budget includes $11.8 million for the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. This fund assists in the creation of jobs by securing a business relocation to the Commonwealth and helping with expansion projects for existing Virginia businesses.
We’re working to meet the Commonwealth’s responsibility to our state employees by fully funding the state pension system at 100% of the required rates by 2016, three years earlier than required. In addition, if Virginia’s economy remains strong, and we meet our projections, a revenue reserve will be used for a state employee 2% pay raise in July of 2015.
Keeping our neighborhoods safe
Keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe creates a better quality of life for all Virginians. To that extent, we’ve added $7.1 annually for our local police departments.
Putting money in the state’s savings accounts
Finally, one of the best things we can do to help middle class families is ensure the Commonwealth is in a sound financial position should the economy take a downward turn or economic growth slows. To combat any negative impacts of slowed growth, $243 million has been allotted for a Rainy Day Fund deposit that brings the fund to over $900 million. In addition, $140 million has been set aside for a revenue reserve fund to absorb any potential future revenue reductions.
Just so you don’t think it’s not important, I wanted to include some information on transportation. If you remember, last session, I worked closely with other legislators on the first bi-partisan transportation package to be passed in almost 30 years. This year’s initiatives continued the work of growing our economy and creating jobs, all while improving transportation in the Commonwealth.
I just got word that they will be repairing potholes along Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield this weekend and in the spring, there will finally be money available for repaving projects!
Funding for our Fairfax County schools
The state’s school funding formula is called the Local Composite Index of Local Ability to Pay (LCI). The LCI is a result of a Virginia Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the Virginia Constitution requires all children to receive, to the extent practicable, an equivalent education. To accomplish this, the Court ruled that some funding formula must be used to direct money to areas that can’t afford to educate children. (The Court did not say what the formula has to be, only that some redistribution must occur). Consequently, the purpose of the LCI is to ensure less affluent localities are able to provide for their students. The LCI is essentially a formula with variables for number of students and ability of a locality to raise money from its citizens (e.g. real estate values, sales tax, etc.) The result of the formula sets a figure that determines how much a school system must pay for its own basic education. One of the factors is “cost to compete.” This directs money to areas where the cost of living is high (e.g. NOVA). Former Governor McDonnell cut this from the budget. I sponsored a budget amendment to add it back in. The House budget proposed this week that there be $5.4 million new money for “cost to compete” in eligible school divisions.
If all goes as planned, we’ve got one week left here in Richmond. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.