By Stephen J. Nielsen
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates released its proposed amendments to the 2012-2014 state budget Sunday, seeking to pump more money into the commonwealth’s “rainy day” fund, education and Medicaid.
The proposals include a $95 million deposit in the state’s rainy day fund, which is used for contingencies. The plan also would provide $45 million for pay raises for teachers and school support staff, funding for school security and funding for an addition 250 Medicaid waiver slots.
“On the heels of the news that our national economy shrunk in the last quarter of 2012, it’s important that we continue to exercise fiscal discipline,” said House Majority Leader M. Kirkland “Kirk” Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who is also vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Cox said the $95 million rainy day fund includes $45 million more than Gov. Bob McDonnell called for. This would prepare Virginia for economic challenges that might lie ahead, Cox said.
House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, commended the plan that emerged from the House Appropriations Committee.
“This is a conservative and responsible budget that makes targeted investments in our core areas of need and focuses on our governing priorities: jobs, K-12 and higher education, public safety and health care,” Howell said.
The 250 Medicaid slots added by the budget would create 200 Intellectual Disability waivers and 50 Development Disability waivers, according to Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell. The budget specifically includes $7.7 million for ID and DD Medicaid waivers.
“Protecting the health care safety net for less fortunate Virginians is absolutely critical,” Ingram said.
The budget also includes $2.5 million in targeted economic development incentives to create the Cyber Accelerator program, which state officials hope will attract cyber security companies to Virginia and will be managed by the state’s Center for Innovative Technology.
The allocation would also increase the cap by $500,000 for angel investor tax credit, a credit system to help individual investors in early-stage businesses.
“In the past three years, we have invested over $100 million in concentrated economic development and watched our unemployment rate drop to 5.5 percent,” said Delegate Steve Landes, R-Augusta, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s economic development subcommittee. “But we know there is more work to do.”
Funding Cyber Accelerator and expanding the angel investor tax credit are just two ways that efforts are being made to create a good climate for job creation, Landes said.
For education, the House’s proposed budget expands on McDonnell’s proposed 2 percent pay raise for teachers and includes support staff. The proposed funding totals $62 million. The budget also includes $12 million for higher education enrollment growth and $3.7 million to increase Virginia Tuition Assistance grants from $2,800 to $3,100 per student.
“As they grow older, we want to make sure all of our students have the opportunity to attend a Virginia college or university” said Delegate Bob Tata, R-Virginia Beach, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on K-12 education. “Expanded funding to encourage enrollment growth and TAG grants are two important parts of achieving that goal.”
School and public safety were also mentioned in the budget. House Republicans announced Friday that there would be $31 million for this purpose. The budget includes $1.7 million for school resource officers and $30 million for school security improvements.
“We want to reward and recognize our teachers because the selfless work they do is critical to the education of our young people,” Tata said. “Educating our young people is critical to Virginia’s long-term economic development.”
The House of Delegates is expected to vote on its budget proposal on Thursday.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.