|On Sunday March 14, the 2010 General Assembly session adjourned. Considering the challenges that I described in previous updates, it was a huge success that we were able to complete our work just one day late. There were tremendous accomplishments that were made throughout the session in the areas of job creation, economic development, public safety and government reform.
This was the first year that I was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to serve as a budget conferee- one of a dozen members who work together to craft the final budget. It was a steep learning curve and an eye opening experience to be involved in such complex negotiations, however, I feel I made a positive contribution.
This year's negotiations were made even more difficult by the immensely different approaches taken by the Senate and House to close Virginia's $4.2 billion shortfall. The House had proposed $685 million in cuts to K-12 education, while the Senate $143 million. The House also proposed no new fees while the Senate proposed $230 million in new fees to recover costs of services provided. With close to a total of $1 billion in differences to reconcile, negotiations between the House and Senate were extremely time consuming.
As we spent countless hours locked in negotiations and burning the midnight oil, there were times when we seemed to be moving in the right direction and moments
when we seemed deadlocked. But, the outcome was a strong budget that incorporated the best ideas of both the House and Senate proposals. There is plenty to not like, but in these tough economic times we, like all Virginians, were forced to make difficult decisions. The final outcome is a budget that streamlines government, maintains our AAA bond rating and limits the cuts to Virginia's education system.
|Budget Conference Report Highlights
- Limits reductions in the area of K-12 education to $253 million (compared to the House of Delegates position of $685 million in reductions);
- Restores $167.8 million for local constitutional officers that were either significantly reduced or eliminated in the budget introduced by Governor Kaine;
- Eliminates the state employee share of retirement contribution proposed by Governor Kaine to be paid by our current state employees;
- Adds no furlough days for state employees beyond the one already scheduled this May;
- Provides $46.3 million for the Governor McDonnell's economic development and jobs creation plan, including a deposit of $12 million in the Governor's Opportunity Fund. This money will be used to attract new business investments and jobs to the Commonwealth;
- Includes language to direct anticipated federal funds for medical assistance programs to restore reductions in Medicaid reimbursement rates;
- Provides greater oversight of the current information technology outsourcing agreement in response to the recent controversy over VITA;
- Increases some user fees and cost recovery fees, but provides no broad-based tax or fee increases; continues to provide car tax relief at same level as recent years and eliminates proposed increase in E-911 telephone charges
Click Here for a more in depth analysis of the budget conference report
The extreme budget shortfall has made this one of the most challenging sessions of the 19 sessions that I have been privileged to serve.
Nevertheless, I am pleased with what we were able to accomplish. We passed a strong, balanced budget that meets the needs of Virginians without increased taxes. We passed legislation and made unprecedented investments in economic development and job creation. And we made some structural changes in government that will provide long-term cost savings. While the session was difficult, our work this year will serve Virginia well both now and in the future.
There is still much work to be done, and in the upcoming months it is possible that the Governor will call special sessions to deal with "unfinished business" in regards to Virginia's transportation crisis and to further discuss government reform initiatives. I will notify you as details emerge on these topics.