The Senate voted a few minutes ago, 23-17, to pass a biennial budget that will fund our state government from July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2016. All Democrats and three Republicans voted for it.
Here are a few highlights:
Revenue forecast: The Senate has projected a shortfall of $125 million in revenues by the close of this fiscal year on June 30, 2014. That’s the bad news from a slowing economy. The good news is that we will forego a $59 million deposit into the Rainy Day Fund, since we’re no longer in a “surplus” status.
K-12 Education: We will be increasing our K-12 public school spending by $267 million annually. This is not due to some sudden burst of generosity. Rather, it’s driven by “re-benchmarking,” which automatically updates our education spending to keep pace with enrollment growth. Otherwise, the adjustments are minor.
Higher Education: We are adding $183 million for higher education. The bulk of that is coming from a 1% salary increase for faculty at our state universities. Yeah, I know. I’m not expecting cards and flowers. We are still way behind the curve here.
Public Health: This topic is dominated by “Marketplace Virginia,” which took up several hours of debate. It will provide coverage to a quarter-million uninsured Virginians using proceeds dedicated for Medicaid expansion under the ACA. I will give a post on this with better detail. Otherwise, the Senate budget funds an extra $20 million for behavioral health concerns, $10 million to expand FAMIS (health insurance for indigent children), and $6 million to cover clients at our training centers moving to community care.
Judicial: The Senate budget includes funding for 429 judgeships. In Fairfax County, the Senate will fund judges for fourteen Circuit Courts, ten General District Courts and eight Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts. That will at least hold us harmless, especially if the House agrees to raise the judicial retirement age (which it needs to do).
Capital Outlay: As mentioned previously, we are issuing bonds in the amount of $300 million to overhaul our Capitol Square, including the General Assembly, Old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings. Needless to say, it would be highly ironic to subsidize this renovation — and not accept Federal funds which will insure our working poor.
Now that the Senate bill has passed, it will go to the House of Delegates. It will not pass there, at least on the first time. We will then go into conference and see what happens. Unlikely it will be decided in the next couple weeks.