By Margo Maier
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is praising the Republican-controlled General Assembly for approving state budget amendments that will increase funding for education and provide pay raises for teachers, state troopers and other government employees.
“Virginians should be proud of the manner in which their leaders worked together across branches of government and party lines to pass a balanced budget that invests in key priorities for a new Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said after both chambers gave final passage to the budget amendments.
HB 1400, the bill to amend the state’s 2014-16 budget, passed on votes of 95-5 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate. The legislation now goes to McAuliffe for his consideration.
“At the beginning of this session, I asked the General Assembly to pass a budget that closes our revenue shortfall while enhancing economic development, investing in expanded health care services, protecting education and giving state employees a raise. I am pleased that the budget passed by the House and the Senate honors all of those priorities, and I look forward to reviewing (it) in detail in the coming days.”
The bill represents adjustments to the two-year budget that lawmakers approved amid much turmoil in 2014. HB 1400 was the product of a conference committee of delegates and senators.
McAuliffe singled out three conferees: Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriation Committee; and Sens. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, and Charles Colgan, D- Manassas, co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee.
“I want to thank Chairmen Jones, Stosch and Colgan for their partnership throughout a budget process that has been marked by bipartisan leadership and cooperation,” the governor said.
The amendments would affect spending mostly during the second half of the biennium — the fiscal year that starts July 1. They would reduce spending from the state’s general fund by about $1 billion.
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said HB 1400 includes an additional $42 million for higher education. “This budget demonstrates our clear commitment to making sure Virginia’s colleges and universities remain the world-class institutions that they are, and to make sure that they are affordable and accessible,” he said.
Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, said the budget amendments also would increase the number of in-state tuition slots and encourage colleges to accept transfer students. “We are supporting faculty research and paying cash for capital projects. I am very proud of what this budget accomplishes for higher education.”
The conference report also includes funding for a teacher pay raise and money for teacher professional development.
“At the beginning of the session, we outlined an agenda to ensure that every child has a chance to succeed in the classroom. A large part of that agenda included efforts to support our teachers, which our budget does,” said Delegate Tag Greason, R-Loudoun.
“We are making it possible for localities to give our teachers, who are tireless advocates for our young people, a 1.5 percent pay raise and increasing funding for professional development. Success in the classroom starts with our teachers.”
State employees also would receive a pay increase, said Delegate John M. O’Bannon, R-Henrico.
“We have over 100,000 state employees who put their best foot forward every day to serve their fellow citizens,” he said.
Here is how the House voted Thursday on HB 1400 (“Budget Bill”).
Floor: 02/26/15 House: VOTE: ADOPTION #2 (95-Y 5-N)
YEAS — Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, BaCote, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Berg, Bloxom, Bulova, Byron, Campbell, Carr, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, DeSteph, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Futrell, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Herring, Hester, Hodges, Hope, Hugo, Ingram, James, Joannou, Jones, Keam, Kilgore, Knight, Krupicka, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lindsey, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Mason, Massie, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, Minchew, Morefield, Morris, Murphy, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Plum, Pogge, Poindexter, Preston, Ramadan, Ransone, Rasoul, Robinson, Rush, Rust, Scott, Sickles, Spruill, Stolle, Sullivan, Taylor, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Villanueva, Ward, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Mr. Speaker — 95.
NAYS — Kory, Lopez, Morrissey, Simon, Surovell — 5.
“We are providing funding for a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise and funding to address salary compression among senior employees. This is an effort to recognize and reward our state employees for the good work that they do on behalf of the Commonwealth.”
House Speaker William J. Howell saw legislators’ overwhelming approval of the bill as a testament to effective government.
“While Washington drowns in deficits and debt, weighed down by partisan gridlock, Republicans in Richmond are painting a stark contrast. Not only have we produced a balanced budget as our Constitution requires, but we have done so ahead of schedule and with greater transparency than any time in recent memory,” Howell said.
“By adopting these budget amendments today, the General Assembly is charting a prudent fiscal course for the remainder of this budget cycle and demonstrating how governing is supposed to work.”
The conference report does not expand Medicaid, the health program for low-income people. The federal Affordable Care Act encourages states to extend Medicaid, and this was among McAuliffe’s priorities. Last year, Medicaid expansion led to an impasse over the budget.
Instead, in the budget amendments, lawmakers included $135 million to bolster health care. Republicans took the opportunity to reiterate their criticism of the federal health care law.
“The House of Delegates has once again overwhelmingly rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is a broken system that costs too much and delivers too little for those it currently serves,” said Delegate Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg.
“It should be reformed, not expanded. Instead of doubling-down on this failed system, this conference report builds on our work to strengthen the health care safety net for the truly needy. We are doubling funding for free clinics and making additional investments in community behavioral health services.”
More on the web: To view the amendments to Virginia’s 2014-2016 state budget, visit http://tinyurl.com/va-budget. You can browse or search the amendments or download the entire bill as a PDF.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.