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Focus on Fairfax
Mar. 4, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
 
With just a little more than a week left in the session, our focus is now on Virginia's biennial budget.  The process started in January with the introduction of the budget by the Governor.  Last week the House debated and adopted our amendments.  Yesterday, as is tradition, we rejected the Senate's amendments to put the budget bill into conference committee. 

Budget Highlights
 
The Governor's introduced budget already put us on solid ground with significant investments in education, services for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, Chesapeake Bay restoration, and research and economic development.  The introduced budget also moved Virginia toward correcting several long-standing structural budget deficiencies such as eliminating the accelerated sales tax and ensuring that we fully fund the Virginia Retirement System.

Action in the House kept many of the good aspects of the Governor's budget and made improvements in a number of areas:
  • K-12 Education - The House budget increased per-pupil support for K-12 education and provided more flexibility to school districts on how funds are expended.  The House also kept $40.6 million proposed by the Governor in FY18 for a Cost of Competing Adjustment (COCA) for Northern Virginia.  COCA is additional funding that recognizes it is between 35% and 66% more expensive to live and work in our region.  The bottom line is good for Fairfax County compared to FY16.  For FY17, the Governor's budget increased state funding by $15.0 million, while the House increased state funding by $17.6 million.  For FY18, the Governor's budget increased state funding by $52.3 million, while the House increased funding by $56.9 million.
     
  • Higher Education - While the Governor proposed to increase higher education operating funds by $192.5 million, the House increased funds by $236.2 million.  However, the bigger difference between the two approaches is that the Governor's budget focused on new initiatives (such as a new cybersecurity initiative) while the House focused on increasing general affordability and access.
     
  • Medicaid Waivers - These are funds that provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD).  Virginia has a huge waiting list for services and is under scrutiny by the Department of Justice.  The Governor's budget included $49.8 million for 955 additional ID/DD slots, while the House included $53.6 million for 1,105 additional slots.
     
  • Transportation - The budget includes up to $140 million for the widening of eastbound I-66 inside the Beltway between the Dulles Connector and Ballston.  This funding is part of a hard-fought compromise with the Governor over his plan to toll I-66 inside the Beltway.
     
  • Water Quality - The House maintained $59.1 to continue upgrades to our wastewater treatment facilities and $51.8 million to assist farmers with practices designed to prevent polluted runoff. However, this is one area where the Senate budget is better, which included $20 million to control stormwater pollution from urban areas.
     
  • State Employee Salaries - The Governor proposed an increase for state and state-supported employees (including university faculty) of 2% in FY18 contingent on Virginia hitting certain revenue targets.  The House increased salaries by 3% in FY17, with an additional 1% in FY18 contingent on meeting revenue targets.
Of course, in Virginia, we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget, so any increases must be balanced with decreases.  While the House budget still contained significant increases for research and economic development, it was not as robust as the Governor's proposed budget.  Still, the $122 million proposed by the House will go a long way toward diversifying our economy.  I was disappointed that the House once again turned down the opportunity to accept Medicaid funds.  These are federal funds that are already paid for by federal taxes imposed on Virginians.  In addition to the impact on our ability to provide health care to Virginians, it also means that we must use state funds to support services that would otherwise have been paid for by Medicaid.  For example, we could have recouped $34 million that Virginia now pays hospital services to inmates.
 
Overall, and despite concerns with specific items, the House budget represented a good step forward.  I voted for its passage as did a large majority of my colleagues.  We now wait for the report of the conference committee.  If you would like more information, click here for a good side-by-side comparison put together by the Commonwealth Institute of the Governor's budget versus both the House and Senate amendments.  If you want even more detail, click here for the presentation to the House by the Appropriations Committee staff.
 
I-66 Public Hearings
 
VDOT will be holding additional hearings on the Transform 66 Inside the Beltway project on March 7, 8, and 9.  The hearings will include the opportunity to view project displays, watch a formal presentation, and provide public comment.  The closest meeting to the 37th District will be held on Wednesday, March 9 from 6-8 p.m. at the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office.  Additional information can be found at the VDOT website, including how to view a live stream of the presentation.
 
As an aside, my bill (HB407) to ensure that HOV on the entire length of I-66 does not switch to HOV-3 prematurely for the purpose of tolling has now passed the Senate.  Next stop is the Governor.  I-66 is scheduled to convert to HOV-3 in 2020 as a result of the federal Clean Air Act.  HB407 will make sure that it doesn't happen before then.
 
As always, I appreciate your feedback and questions.
Sincerely,

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David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District
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