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:
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).
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.