Senate Unanimously Adopts Final Budget

A few minutes ago, the State Senate unanimously (40-0) adopted the conference committee report which wrapped up all the outstanding issues between the House and Senate on the state budget.  It also unanimously passed the House (100-0).  That document will now be our state budget through June 30, 2012. 

Here’s a summary of what’s in the final report, with reference to the position adopted:

SENATE PREVAILS:

The most significant difference was the House’s  initial proposed use of $150M in “General Fund” money for transportation, which is usually funded from its own Trust Fund.  The Senate refused to break tradition. In conference, the House backed off except for $32M dictated by existing law. That compromise freed up needed general funds, which are historically used for education, public safety and public health.

Speaking of which, the Senate had initially proposed $114M to restore last year’s Medicaid cuts. Unbelievably, the House proposed deeper cuts. The conference sided with the Senate, restoring $110M for medical providers, nursing homes and dentists who care for the frail and elderly. This was an absolutely critical victory as Virginia’s provider rates are already among the lowest in the U.S.

The Senate had initially proposed $100M additional for K-12 education. The House stayed level. In conference, the additional amount restored was $75M for Direct Aid to public education, most of which is direct to school divisions which lost money last year.

The Senate had initially proposed $37M for public safety, including state police and “599″ funding for local police. The House proposed no new money. The conference split the difference, giving $15M to public safety with most going to localities, including Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Town of Vienna, with local police forces.  (The conferees also added an extra $6M for Sheriffs and regional jails). 

HOUSE PREVAILS

The House initially proposed $112M to undo the “accelerated sales tax” measure from last year, which requires earlier payment by vendors. The Senate proposed nothing on this. The report adopted $46M which will be used to exempt retailers grossing less than five million a year from the ”AST” payment.

The House initially proposed the commitment of $64M towards the Rainy Day Fund. The Senate proposed $20M. The conference adopted the House position in its entirety.

The House initially proposed a 5% pay increase for state employees, balanced by a new requirement that state employees (excepting teachers) personally contribute the 5% “employee share” of their VRS pension. This is a first-time requirement. The Senate initially resisted this proposal, but accepted it in conference.  This agreement reverses a long-time state policy of having the state pay both the employee and employer share of the pension for state employees. 

The overall result, in my opinion, took the best ideas from both budgets and combined them. While I did not agree on every single item, I voted “aye” on the final vote. So did every other member of the House and Senate, which is a first in my time here.

Okay, it’s 7:30 p.m. and we will be leaving here shortly. A special thanks to Chairman Colgan (D-Prince William) for his great work in leading our Senate budget team.

They did a great job.

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  • http://www.baconsrebellion.com Groveton

    Chap:

    Congratulations on passing the budget. However, through the lens of your constituents in Northern Virginia this does not look good. One the matter of using General Funds vs. Transportation Trust funds for transportation … the intellectual and moral purity of the senate is only valid if there is a fair and appropriate funding mechanism for transportation. There is no such mechanism. The gas tax, a major source of funding for transportation, has been frozen in cents per gallon since 1986. In other words, a gallon of gas generates the same pennies of tax in 2011 as it did in 1986. However, those 25 years have seen constant inflation in the material and labor needed to build and maintain roads. This is fine in parts of Virginia where there has been an outflow of people and there is more road capacity than necessary. Not the case among your constituents.

    It seems to me that the House of Delegates was pragmatic in allocating General Funds for transportation given the General Assembly’s quarter century long inability to address the state’s traffic congestion problem. Northern Virginia is ranked second worst for traffic congestion in the United States. Yet, you and your colleagues “refused to break tradition”. Senator, this is one tradition you should have broken.

    I also question your characterization of the additional $75M in direct aid to public education for “school divisions which lost money last year”. Last year, for the first time in my memory, Fairfax County saw its “education deficit” reduced. In other words, we still paid a lot more in taxes for education than we received back in funding for education. However, the gap narrowed. This reduction in Fairfax’s “education deficit” created an equivalent education surplus in other parts of the state. You have restored $75M of that deficit. How kind. Unfortunately, that $75M comes from other taxes which could have been used for other things – like the transportation we desperately need in Northern Virginia. However, the education funding formula, last bastardized by your fellow Democrat Mark Warner, is designed to “level out” funds across jurisdictions. The last two years have proven what “level out” really means. It means follow the formula so long as ever more money is being taken from Northern Virginia. However, if there ever comes a time when less money is being taken then there must be an alternate, back door method for taking money.

    It is becoming very difficult to understand why any resident of Northern Virginia should vote for any incumbent this November.

    • Chap

      G-town: Thank you for the post and welcome to the new platform. In regard to the GF vs. Trust Fund issue on transportation, this is really a matter of accountability. It would be as if you set an escrow account for your kids’ education, then used that money for something else. Sure, it may make sense 1-2 times but eventually you subvert the purpose of the fund. It’s much easier to keep things accountable when you have a clear division (same argument applies to Fed govt and Social Security funds).

      As far as the regional piece, NOVA actually did very well this year thru the Governor’s transportation plan that we just passed. That $$ will come from a source that was designated to the Trust Fund a few years ago. So, it’s more than just the gas tax (which is producing less $$ as you correctly note).

      You are correct that the K-12 money added is mostly to “losers” in last year’s budget, so comparatively less to Ffx County. Again, I don’t agree with every piece of this budget, but it was more good than bad.

      As to your last statement …. throw the bums out! :)

  • http://www.baconsrebellion.com Groveton

    Bit of a typo …

    Where I wrote:

    “This reduction in Fairfax’s “education deficit” created an equivalent education surplus in other parts of the state.”.

    I should have written:

    “This reduction in Fairfax’s “education deficit” created an equivalent education deficit in other parts of the state.

  • http://www.baconsrebellion.com Groveton

    Like you, I have lived in Northern Virginia all of my life. The voter – taxpayers in Northern Virginia do not generally believe that our elected officials in Richmond are doing much of anything for us. It is generally believed that Northern Virginia’s state politicians have sold out their constituencies in order to be “good boys and girls” with the state-wide parties. The state-wide parties use the money siphoned off from Northern Virginia (and parts of Tidewater) to funnel money to other jurisdictions in order to buy votes in those other jurisdictions.

    While I think this view is somewhat naive, it is far from completely wrong. Moreover, it is what people believe to be true.

    If you think that the Northern Virginia delegation to the General Assembly did a good job of getting a “fair shake” for the people of Northern Virginia, I’d heavily advertise that belief.

    Right now, it seems like Bob McDonnell is the state-wide politician who is doing the most to improve the lives of those of us who live in Northern Virginia. Unfortunately, I can’t vote for him again (at least not for governor in 2014).

    Finally, remember the congestion toll roads approved by our representatives to Richmond. As the Virginia HOT lanes web site states, the tolls will be as much as $1 per mile during periods of congestion. Actually, the tolls can be any amount because our representatives didn’t see much of a reason to cap the tolls. But let’s take the estimated charge of $1/Mi. during congestion.

    Where else in Virginia do people pay $1/mile on tolls? What do you think voters will think when they start getting $100+ per month congestion tolling bills? Remember, these are voters in an area that pays far more in taxes than they get back from Richmond in funding.

    Of course, the politicians will say the people should just drive on the free, congested beltway.

    Let them eat cake.

    How did that philosophy “pan out” for the woman who coined the phrase?

    If you and the other GA representatives from NoVa think you have done a good job FOR NOVA I’d really urge you to put that into your blog postings, your campaign speeched, your campaign web site, etc.

    • Chap

      G-town:
      Again, you’re right on the money. There is no doubt that NOVA gets the short end of the stick on numerous state funding items, the most obvious being K-12 ed. Ironically, the transportation issue is turning in our favor, especially for “outside-the-Beltway” folks like myself. If you look at the votes for and against the Gov’s Transpo plan you’ll see that the negative votes come exclusively from rural areas or urban areas (which pretty much have the roads they need). The suburban reps, i.e. NOVA, got most the benefit and we cast the positive votes. So we do make up ground in other areas. Regardless, it’s always an issue to explain back hom.

  • http://www.baconsrebellion.com Groveton

    Another typo …

    governor in 2013, not 2014.

    This new blog site is much. much better. Unfortunately, it does not improve my typing.

  • LarryG

    Gawd Groveton! you ought to ask two things from Chap:

    1. – An accounting of how much NoVa provides in taxes for education and how much it gets back.

    2. – how much NoVa generates in gasoline taxes and how much of it comes back to NoVa.

    I’m still not convinced that the 1% sales tax that the state collects for education cannot be allocated by the state in a way to assist the poorer counties and this is the approach in many states.

    In other words the State equitably funds every kid an equal amount so each kid no matter where they live has some equal opportunity and then the local jurisdiction can add to it if they are financially able and are so inclined.

    To not do that – will essentially strand those kids growing up in rural areas that have lost their industry and the kids really do need to move to where the jobs are but without at least a halfway decent education they won’t be able to really compete for a job and the alternative for the State – and NoVa is to pay Medicare and welfare assistance for those who cannot leave and cannot get a job.

    Of course, Groveton has been known to opine on occasion that NoVa just succeed from Virginia and go it alone!