House Passes a Fiscally Responsible Budget without Any Tax Increases
On Thursday, we passed the House version of the 2012-2014 biennial budget. Our structurally balanced budget makes strategic investments in the core areas of government that House Republicans have emphasized this Session - helping create private sector jobs, improving education opportunities, protecting our families, and ensuring we have a more efficient and effective state government. Most important, we have made targeted investments without raising taxes on Virginia families and businesses.
During this time of continued economic uncertainty, our top priority remains helping Virginia businesses create new jobs and opportunities. To that end, we extended several tax credits for Virginia businesses including the major facilities job tax credits that are tied to job growth and capital investment to encourage business investment in Virginia. We have also extended the capital gains tax credit for investments in startup businesses to increase capital for small business job creators. To help Virginia farmers and expand Virginia's largest industry, we have established an Agriculture and Forestry Development Fund with $2 million in funding to grow our world market. Recognizing that government can sometimes best help by staying out of the way, we removed several proposed fee increases that hinder job creation.
To improve educational opportunities, we added $575 million for K-12 public education and nearly $200 million for Virginia's colleges and universities. The increase for public schools will fund important programs such as K-3 class size reductions and early reading intervention. Our $200 million investment in higher education follows on the "Top Jobs" higher education reform legislation passed with unanimous support in the 2011 General Assembly. Part of this funding will open an additional 1,700 slots for in-state students at William and Mary, University of Virginia, James Madison University, and Virginia Tech. We have also included funding to help our colleges expand degrees in the high demand fields- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health Care to support 21st century job growth.
In the area of protecting our families, we have added $14.8 million over the biennium for our sheriff departments. For those brave men and women who have served our country, we have included additional funding in the Department of Veterans Services to increase the number of veterans claims agents to help speed up the processing of veterans claims. Protecting our families includes ensuring our most vulnerable citizens have the care they need. Our budget restores many proposed cuts to the health safety net, including proposed cuts to free health clinics. We also have provided funding for 970 new Intellectual Disability waivers and 100 new Developmental Disability waivers. The waivers provide the funds to move family members with disabilities from distant mental hospitals to health care support near home.
To make our state government more efficient and effective, we have found savings in a number of areas including $2.8 million in our legislative budget. In total, we were able to reduce agency budgets and return over $32 million to the General Fund over three years. We have also tackled one of the biggest issues impacting future budgets - the Virginia Retirement System's $19 billion unfunded liability. We have designated $2.2 billion towards paying down the unfunded liability. This investment, coupled with several proposed reforms to the retirement system, represents an important step towards safeguarding the VRS for our current and future employees. Mindful the growth of the national economy is below expectations, we have taken the prudent step of adding $300 million to increase our Rainy Day Fund to $600 million.
We have worked tirelessly to produce a budget that reflects our core principles and was pleased that eleven Democrats joined House Republicans in supporting the House budget. While we have made significant progress in the budget thus far, there is still much work to be done. In the other chamber, Senate Democrats have unfortunately decided to obstruct progress on passing a budget simply for their own political gain. I believe Governor McDonnell and Lt. Governor Bolling said it best when they said, "This is not the Virginia way." I call on the Senate Democrats to take a page from the House Democrat playbook and work with Republicans to help craft a fiscally responsible budget that makes strategic investments in the core areas of government instead of playing partisan political games.
Example of Constituent Services Provided:
On Wednesday, we received a call from a constituent expressing her concern that she had not been receiving her VEC payments. Immediately after our conversation on Wednesday, February 22, VEC staff contacted her and discussed her claim. After the discussion, she was informed that a call would be returned to her on 2/23/12 to provide the status about her payments.
On February 23, VEC staff called our constituent to inform her that two weeks of payments were issued to her the previous eveningt. Two additional weeks were keyed on Thursday and those payments will be released tonight. As of, Friday, February 24, her claim will be current. (Once payments are issued, it takes two days for the payments to show in a claimant's account or on her debit card. She should see four weeks of payments in her account or debit card by Saturday at the latest.)
Alyssa Sklar with her artwork at the General Assembly
REMINDER: March 6th is Presidential primary Day in Virginia
There is a Republican primary here in Virginia on March 6th. I encourage you all to go to the polls and vote. If you are unable to get to the polls, you can vote absentee in the Registrar's office up thru Saturday March 3. Or the Registrar can mail you a ballot. Here is a link to the State Board of Elections site with details about absentee voting: Virginia SBE Absentee Voting Information
As always, my staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We want to hear what you think about the legislation pending before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency. My office can be reached at (804) 698-1097or via the Internet at Delcpeace@house.virginia.gov If you are planning to visit Richmond during Session, I encourage you to visit me in Room 527.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.