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Appropriations Chairman Plans to Appoint Ranking Democrat as Subcommittee Chair

Appropriations Chairman Plans to Appoint Ranking Democrat as Subcommittee Chair

Posted by on Jan 11, 2018 in News | 0 comments

By MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times-Dispatch January 11, 2018

The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee will name a ranking Democrat as a subcommittee chairman on the powerful budget panel.

Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said Wednesday that he plans to make Del. Luke E. Torian, D-Prince William, chairman of the Subcommittee on General Government & Capital Outlay, pending committee appointments by new House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

Jones intends to announce subcommittee assignments Thursday after Cox completes appointments under new rules adopted by the House of Delegates that ensure proportional representation on committees and subcommittees despite the GOP’s 51-49 majority in a chamber radically changed by elections in November.

“This further demonstrates the trust and respect we have for one another on the Appropriations Committee, regardless of whether we’re a Republican or Democrat, when doing the people’s business,” Jones said in an interview. “We focus on policy rather than politics.”

House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, praised Jones’ decision as “a very constructive and significant move.”

“Chris has said since Election Day we’re going to have to start doing some things differently, and he’s living up to his word,” Toscano said.

Torian, a five-term delegate who joined the Appropriations Committee in 2014, has been the sole Democrat serving as a budget conferee in negotiations with the Senate for the past two years. “I’m grateful and appreciative to the chairman for giving me this opportunity,” he said.

Earlier, Torian seconded the nomination of Cox as speaker to succeed Del. William J. Howell, R-Stafford, who retired after 30 years in the House and 15 as speaker.

“I’m grateful that he has that confidence in me,” Torian said of Jones’ decision to make him chairman of the subcommittee, replacing Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Loudoun, who was defeated by David A. Reid, a Loudoun County Democrat who joined the House on Wednesday. “He and I have worked well together in the time I’ve been on the Appropriations Committee.”

The Appropriations Committee will have seven members to replace: Cox, elected as speaker Wednesday; retiring Dels. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, and Daun Hester, D-Norfolk; and four Republican members defeated in an election that whittled the GOP majority from 32 votes to two.

Under the proportional representation, the speaker will appoint 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats to the budget panel, which would add four Democrats and three Republicans to the existing members, assuming they are reappointed.

Jones, who became chairman in 2014, also plans a shake-up of subcommittee chairs to provide them seasoning in different areas of the state’s two-year budget, now $107 billion. The biennial budget Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed would increase to $115 billion, including all sources of revenue.

“We’re going to do some cross-training,” he said. “My goal is to broaden the members’ knowledge of the budget.”

In addition to Torian, Jones will name as subcommittee chairs:

  • Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, on Commerce, Agriculture, Natural Resources & Technology, replacing Del. John M. O’Bannon, R-Henrico, who was defeated by Democrat Debra H. Rodman;
  • Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, on Elementary & Secondary Education, replacing Massie;
  • Del. Nick Rush, R-Montgomery, on Higher Education, replacing Cox;
  • Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, on Health & Human Resources, replacing Ingram;
  • Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, on Transportation, replacing Peace;
  • Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, on Public Safety, replacing Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, who was defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Guzman; and
  • Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, who will remain head of Compensation & Retirement.

Control of the House had been in doubt since election night, when Democrats briefly enjoyed a 50-50 balance of power. However, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, retained his seat after a post-election canvass reversed the result in his race with Democrat Donte Tanner.

A recount gave Democrat Shelly Simonds a one-vote advantage over Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, but a three-judge panel ruled a disputed ballot in the Republican’s favor, forcing a drawing that awarded him the 94th District seat.

Had the races resulted in an evenly divided House, Torian likely would have shared the Appropriations chairmanship with Jones, who expressed confidence in the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat.

“Luke is someone with whom I have a very good working relationship,” Jones said. “He’s done a very good job on the committee. He deserves a subcommittee chairmanship, given his body of work.”

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

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Colleges Urged to Close Gap Between Degrees and Job Skills

Colleges Urged to Close Gap Between Degrees and Job Skills

Posted by on Jan 8, 2018 in News | 0 comments

By DAVE RESS Daily Press November 15, 2017

The warning was polite, but clear: the House Appropriations Committee is looking for Virginia’s state colleges and universities to do a better job offering courses that match what employers want. Tackling that will be a top priority for the budget writing committee in the 2018 session, Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said Wednesday.

So will be finding money to kick-start dredging channels for the Port of Virginia, he said. Higher education spending was a key focus in the second day of the committee’s annual retreat in Portsmouth.

“There is a gap between what we have and what we need,” Jones said, after a briefing by committee staff. “We spend a lot of money in higher education … we’ve got to produce results at the end of the day.”

He said he’s concerned that colleges aren’t preparing students for the jobs that employers say they struggle to fill.

The percentage of Virginia college faculty in science, technology, engineering, math and health disciplines is about 5 percentage points below the national average of 37 percent, according to briefing material prepared for the committee.

Vice Chairman Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, said he also wants to be sure colleges can help tackle the looming shortage of teachers and health care workers.

“We’ve been having some frank discussions with the colleges for a while,” Landes said.

He said colleges need to play a prominent role in economic development — as he said some already have — and that the committee’s deliberations need to keep that role front and center.

The committee’s briefing said colleges spending proposals for the next two-year budget amounted to an additional $634 million. About 35 percent of that is for initiatives including research, workforce programs and online courses, 29 percent would go for salary increases, 25 percent for technology, operations and maintenance costs, new hires and costs associated with growth in enrollment and 11 percent for financial aid.

Most said their top priority was increasing salaries, although committee analyst Tony Maggio noted that the method colleges use to say their salaries are not competitive is 30 years old. A look at broader samples of comparable colleges show Virginia schools are generally close to national averages, he said. The College of William and Mary has run measurable above similar institutions for the past decade, with average faculty salary nearly $100,000 compared to a national average for similar schools of about $85,000, according to Maggio’s briefing material. He did not have figures for Christopher Newport University salaries.

On the port, Jones said deepening the channels to 55 feet and ensuring that deeper pathway is 1,400 feet wide is vital.

“We want to be the the first stop and the last stop” for the deeper vessels that now ply the world’s main trade routes, he said.

Generally, shipping lines try to limit port stops to only two or three at the most on the Atlantic, and port officials here are concerned that ports to the south are aiming to be either the first stop for inbound traffic or last for outbound, which could lead lines to decide they don’t need to bother with Virginia’s ports.

The port authority is asking Congress to fund dredging but Jones said he’d like the state to pay for preliminary design and engineering work.

That would get the project off to a fast start, he said.

“This is important for the whole state,” he added.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

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Va. budget deal includes raises for teachers, faculty, Capitol Police

Va. budget deal includes raises for teachers, faculty, Capitol Police

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in News | 0 comments

IMAGE: BOB BROWN / RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH

Teachers, college faculty and the Virginia Capitol Police would get pay raises under a budget deal negotiators for the House of Delegates and Senate reached Wednesday.

The agreement would give a 2 percent raise to teachers and college and university faculty.

The deal provides the state’s share of an additional 1 percent raise for faculty at eight higher education institutions that did not give raises or bonuses last year, after a revenue shortfall forced the cancellation of a scheduled 3 percent raise for state employees and faculty last summer. The others could give the additional raise with their own money.

The budget compromise also would include $1.75 million to raise salaries for the Division of Capitol Police to make them competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the region. Additionally, it would allow the agency to fill vacant positions and add at least six more as it prepares security plans for the General Assembly’s move to the Pocahontas Building later this year.

The pay increases for teachers, faculty and Capitol Police would come on top of the 3 percent raise that the House and Senate had restored for state employees in their versions of the budget, which also would provide a nearly $7,000 increase in starting salary for Virginia State Police and an equal pay hike for current troopers.

“Our No. 1 goal was to evaluate and redirect funds to provide the pay raise that was promised last year to our state employees and faculty, state-supported local employees and teachers,” House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said in an interview.

The House and Senate could vote on the proposed budget deal as early as Friday night. Legislative rules require that lawmakers get at least 48 hours to review the decisions by the conference committee that has been working for two weeks to reconcile the two budgets.

“Budget negotiators have completed their work ahead of schedule for the third consecutive year,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, who also is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Under the proposed compromise, the House moved closer to the Senate’s position on a teacher pay raise, while adding about $34 million in lottery money that would be freed to send to local school divisions without requiring them to match the state money or with restrictions on how they spend it.

The proposal would send about 35 percent of lottery revenues to school divisions with no strings — up from 29 percent — while the rest would be allocated to programs for K-12 education.

The deal includes $32 million for the state’s share of a 2 percent raise for teachers effective Feb. 15, 2018, for the last 4½ months of the fiscal year. However, school divisions would be able to receive their share of that money as early as July for pay hikes that most of them gave last year anyway.

The budget also would include $7.3 million in additional funding for small school divisions, such as Petersburg’s, that have been losing enrollment and the state per-pupil funding that goes with it. The allocation would be based on a five-year look-back on division enrollment in small school divisions.

The proposed deal also would restore about $17 million of the $76 million in funding for higher education institutions that Gov. Terry McAuliffe had cut to address the revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that will begin July 1. Under the plan, no institution would lose more than 1.5 percent of its education and general funding.

The Senate prevailed in securing $3.3 million for a career development program for employees of state-supported local constitutional offices, such as sheriff’s departments, commonwealth’s attorneys, treasurers and commissioners of revenue.

Both budgets already included money for a 2 percent raise for state-supported local employees, such as sheriff’s deputies. They also included money to ease salary compression for deputies and state police that had been eliminated because of the revenue shortfall and then restored by McAuliffe in his proposed budget.

Salary compression is when pay for veteran employees does not keep pace with that of more recent hires.

The House prevailed in restoring more than $3 million of the nearly $4 million that the governor had proposed — and the Senate had eliminated — to improve the state’s balky voter registration system and replace federal election funds that are set to disappear.

The budget deal includes $5 million for supportive housing for people with serious mental illness, as well as $100,000 to enable the State Board of Corrections to investigate suspicious deaths in regional and local jails. The Senate had included the money in its budget, but the House had proposed $2 million for supportive housing and none for the corrections initiative.

The compromise also would include an additional $1.5 million proposed by the House for helping victims of domestic violence. The money would allow the state to receive an additional $6 million in federal funds for the initiative.

In economic development, the budget negotiators restored all of the $4 million that the governor cut from the Inova Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Institute in Northern Virginia.

They kept to their plan to restore half of the $15 million that McAuliffe had cut from the GO Virginia economic development initiative.

They also did not back down from restoring $5 million the governor had cut from the $10.2 million appropriation for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s 2019 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first legislative body in the new world, as well as the arrival of women and Africans to the Jamestown Colony.

The deal did not relieve the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from having to provide more than $20 million in additional revenue to support spending in the two-year budget.

Nor did it allow the money-producing agency to move ahead with a $104.7 million proposal to build a new warehouse and headquarters.

ABC, poised to become a semi-independent authority next year, wants to replace the aging, crowded complex it occupies now on 21½ acres on Hermitage Road that the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Virginia Commonwealth University are eying for a new baseball stadium.

Instead, ABC would have to produce a plan by Nov. 1 that covers a wide range of options for expanding warehouse capacity that is crucial for generating more sales to support the budget in the future. Those options must include potentially remaining at the same site.

The budget also includes language allowing the state to temporarily close a short section of Bank Street — between North Ninth and North 10th streets — for a pedestrian mall between the Pocahontas Building and the Capitol. The section of the street would close only when the General Assembly is in session while the state razes and replaces the legislature’s current building.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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Deal reached on state economic development reform

Deal reached on state economic development reform

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in News | 0 comments

Compromise legislation to reform the Virginia Economic Development Partnership will come before the General Assembly today as one of the last and most substantial decisions of the session.

Negotiators for the House of Delegates and Senate, working closely with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, hammered out a final deal Friday night. It ensures that some members of the partnership’s current board of directors will remain on the reconstituted body, which will shrink in size while ensuring that all regions of Virginia have representation.

“It could have been a disaster if we didn’t keep the leadership of the current board involved,” said Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Mecklenburg. “There has to be a period of transition.”

But the heart of the legislation, proposed by Ruff and House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, is the establishment of mechanisms to ensure accountability by the VEDP board and staff, as well as the businesses that receive public financial incentives to locate or expand operations in Virginia.

“I think this compromise will certainly put VEDP back on track,” Jones said Friday night.

The partnership was the target of a withering critique last fall by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the legislature’s watchdog agency. It found that the multimillion-dollar operation had been poorly operated and supervised, with little oversight of the financial incentives granted to business prospects or assurance they would live up to their commitments.

The legislation will establish a new division within the partnership to oversee financial incentives and assure that companies comply with their terms. It also will create an internal auditing arm to monitor the organization.

International trade will remain a division of VEDP under the legislation, rather than splitting off as an independent corporation as required under legislation adopted a year ago.

The new board will shrink from 24 to 17 members under the compromise, with the governor’s office represented by the secretaries of finance and commerce and trade and the legislature represented by the staff directors of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees.

The chairman of GO Virginia, a new regional economic development initiative, also will serve on the VEDP board, as will the director of the Port of Virginia. The governor will have seven citizen appointments and the legislature will have four, but the board must include a representative of each of the nine regions for GO Virginia.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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Va. legislature approves $107 billion budget, concludes 46-day session

Va. legislature approves $107 billion budget, concludes 46-day session

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in News | 0 comments

IMAGE: BOB BROWN / RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH

The General Assembly arrived in Richmond on Jan. 11 with a $1.26 billion hole in state revenues and left 46 days later with a $107 billion, two-year budget that restores pay raises to public employees, invests in mental health services and protects education funding, while carving out a new revenue reserve.

“What we have done is nothing short of remarkable,” House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, told the House, which adopted the revised two-year spending plan on a 96-1 vote on Saturday morning.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate voted 40-0 to adopt the budget compromise that negotiators for both chambers reached Wednesday. Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Augusta, said the committee had “been working hard to address priority needs with limited resources.”

No priority was higher than restoring a 3 percent pay raise to state employees — promised and then lost last year in the face of an unexpected revenue shortfall.

And no agency was a higher priority for lawmakers than Virginia State Police, which received a $7,000 boost in starting salary as well as pay for veteran officers to reverse an accelerating exodus of experienced troopers to other law enforcement agencies.

The budget even restored $1.2 million that had been promised last year for a new tactical unit in Southwest Virginia.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said former state police Superintendent M. Wayne Huggins, now executive director of the Virginia State Police Association.

Huggins said the budget investments, which House and Senate budget leaders announced earlier in the session, seem to be working. A half-dozen or more former troopers have inquired about coming back to the department, and other veteran officers have decided not to retire, he said.

“It seems to be having a beneficial effect on the front and the back ends,” he said.

The money committees redirected funds that Gov. Terry McAuliffe had set aside for a proposed one-time, 1.5 percent bonus that met with little support from legislators and state employees, and they found other savings to finance a compensation package that also includes:

  • a 2 percent raise for sheriff’s deputies and other state-supported local employees, as well as money to help local sheriff’s departments keep veteran employees’ pay from lagging that of new hires;
  • a 2 percent raise for teachers that represents the state’s share of salary increases that most school divisions gave last year after the state money disappeared, or, alternatively, for pay increases they can give in the next year;
  • a 2 percent raise for faculty at all public colleges and universities and money for an additional 1 percent at eight institutions that didn’t give raises or bonuses last year (the remainder can give the additional raise with their own money);
  • a 2 percent additional raise for state employees in high-turnover jobs, such as nurses and direct-care staff at state behavioral health institutions, such as the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton; and
  • $3.3 million to fund a career development program for employees in constitutional offices, such as commonwealth’s attorneys, treasurers, commissioners of revenue and sheriff’s departments and $2.6 million for district court clerks.

The assembly, spurred by the House, also raised the starting salaries of the Division of Capitol Police by $6,750 a year, while giving veterans a $4,355 raise. It also gave the agency money to fill vacancies and hire an additional half-dozen officers in preparation for increased security requirements when the assembly moves next year to the Pocahontas Building.

Richmond impact

The budget also gives the Capitol Police and Department of General Services control over a portion of Bank Street — from North Ninth to North 12th streets — while the legislature is meeting in the Pocahontas Building during the next four sessions as its 41-year-old home is replaced.

The state is working with city officials to limit disruption of the busy thoroughfare on the south side of the Capitol.

In another provision that affects Richmond, the budget includes $7.5 million for a fund that cities and other localities with high poverty rates can use for “community employment and training programs” to help move people off public support and into jobs. Richmond pioneered the idea as “community wealth building” under then-Mayor Dwight C. Jones.

Mental health

The assembly also agreed in large part with a major new investment in mental health services proposed by McAuliffe, although it cut some of the governor’s proposals and replaced them with others, such as $5 million to provide supportive housing for people with serious mental illness.

The $32.2 million package approved Saturday also includes $4 million to expand access to the program that McAuliffe proposed three years ago to serve people with mental illness who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid and $7.5 million to pay for a new mandate on community services boards to serve people the same day they apply for help.

Legislation to require same-day access was among two dozen or so bills that legislators settled in less than two hours on the final day of the session, along with a compromise that gives the Board of Corrections the authority and responsibility for directing investigations of suspicious deaths in local and regional jails. The budget includes $100,000 to pay for the new duties.

McAuliffe was not on hand for the customary visit of legislative leaders at the end of the assembly session because he is presiding as chairman of the National Governors Association during its winter meeting in Washington.

But the governor released a statement that chided the legislature for not including $4.2 million in the budget to allow screening and assessment of inmates for mental illness at regional and local jails.

Legislators say they want to wait for the Joint Subcommittee on Mental Health Services, led by Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. It will extend its work another two years to consider a major restructuring of the state’s fragmented behavioral health system.

Economic development

McAuliffe also repeated his concern over cuts in spending that he promised to nurture emerging industries — such as cybersecurity, solar energy and biotechnology — and the assembly’s decision to restore $7.5 million of the $15 million he had pared from the budget for GO Virginia, a regional economic development initiative favored by legislative leaders and corporate executives.

The assembly also approved a compromise on Saturday for the restructuring of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to address concerns that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission raised in a highly critical report last fall.

The legislation reconstitutes the partnership’s board of directors while requiring it to supervise the independent authority’s staff, establish a new division to oversee state financial incentives, and hire an internal auditor.

“It’s been a collaborative effort between the two chambers and the governor’s office,” Jones said.

Education

Education was the other top priority of the budget committees, which added $34 million to money the state sends to localities on a per-pupil basis through the lottery to spend as school divisions choose.

The budget also restores more than $20 million of a $76 million the governor cut in higher education funding to address the projected shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Democrats supported the budget with one exception: Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, who said after the session adjourned that she couldn’t vote for provisions that stripped money to provide contraceptives for poor women or increased oversight of food stamp recipients.

“There are things (in the budget) that are punishing,” she said.

Speaker Howell

However, Kory expressed regret for voting against the final budget adopted on the watch of House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, who will retire in January after 30 years in the House and 15 as speaker.

Jones, whom Howell appointed as Appropriations chairman at the beginning of 2014, became emotional in his farewell to the speaker. “I want to thank you for the trust you placed in me,” the chairman said.

For Howell, the final day of his final regular session produced a final disappointment. His long-sought effort to establish an optional retirement savings plan to replace defined pension benefits for state and local employees died. The Senate declined to appoint members to a conference committee to reach a compromise on the chambers’ competing bills.

“I really believe the fiscal stability of the Virginia Retirement System is challenged,” he said in an interview.

Howell called the Senate’s proposal “ridiculous” because of clauses that would have required the assembly to approve the legislation again next year and not allow it to take effect until all state pension plans are 95 percent funded, compared with the current low 70s, in general. “I’m disappointed that the Senate chose not to engage. … They’re just kicking it down the road,” he said.

Hanger said the Senate never liked the speaker’s plan because it would require major investment by state and local governments to pay down unfunded liabilities that he said would be stranded if the state adopted a different kind of retirement plan.

“We didn’t want it to pass,” he said. “So when the time came to appoint conferees, we just didn’t. It seemed like the easiest way to deal with it.”

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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Budget moves to battle between House and Senate over revenues, spending priorities

Budget moves to battle between House and Senate over revenues, spending priorities

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in News | 0 comments

With their competing versions of the budget adopted, the House of Delegates and state Senate now prepare for direct combat over the revenues available and how best to spend them.

The Senate voted unanimously Thursday for a budget that includes an additional $31 million in revenues the state hopes to collect next year from delinquent taxpayers through a new amnesty program, as well as raises for teachers and higher education faculty that the House declined to guarantee.

“It’s a more conservative budget than the House, and it’s more directed at our priority needs than the House,” Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Augusta, declared at the beginning of a more than two-hour debate that ultimately changed nothing in the spending plan the committee had proposed Sunday.

Meanwhile, the House voted 98-2 for a budget that doesn’t count on the extra projected amnesty revenue but provides larger pots of money for local school divisions and, depending how much they need it, colleges and universities to spend on their own priorities, including raises.

But while Hanger called the proposed reserve fund “a buffer” for the Senate in budget negotiations that will begin next week, House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said “the first order of business will be to reconcile revenues before we can get into the differences in spending.”

Despite the early jockeying for position, the two budgets adopted Thursday share common goals:

  • restoring a 3 percent raise for state employees that was promised and lost last year because of a projected $1.5 billion revenue shortfall;
  • boosting starting pay and salaries for state police;
  • raising salaries 2 percent for sheriff’s deputies and other state-supported local employees; and
  • expanding services for Virginians with mental illness and substance use addictions.

Budget leaders in both chambers also agree they will not count on additional revenues from tax collections this year, even though revenues collected through January will be announced next week and are expected to be ahead of projections.

“I feel strongly we should not re-forecast revenues,” Jones said. “If there are additional revenues at the end of the day, they would offset any use of the rainy day fund.”

Outnumbered by Republicans in both chambers, Democrats largely supported the spending plans after trying vainly to tweak them to allow Gov. Terry McAuliffe to expand the state’s Medicaid program if the Affordable Care Act survives, restore overtime pay for personal care attendants and expand options for low-income women to use long-term reversible contraceptives.

Dels. Marcus B. Simon, D-Fairfax, and Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, cast the two opposing votes in the House, but Minority Leader David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said that even if his party caucus would have written the budget a little differently, “it is our view that we are moving in the right direction.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, sounded a similarly supportive theme.

“We took a stand against opioids and the scourge of addiction,” Locke said in a statement. “We worked together to tackle the issues plaguing our mental health system, and we put our children first by protecting education funding.”

The biggest partisan fight in the Senate came over the decision to strip almost $4 million in new funding that McAuliffe had proposed for the Department of Elections in response to an outcry by Republicans before the election last fall about the shortcomings of the state voter registration system, VERIS.

“This is a drastic cut that will undermine the department in its mission to ensure the integrity of the election process,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who also warned that without the proposed funding “the functionality of our system is at risk.”

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, who chairs the Finance subcommittee that recommended the cuts, said some of the proposed spending wasn’t necessary, while the major investments the governor sought could be hard to accomplish in an election year for three statewide offices.

But Vogel acknowledged that “the needs are far from being met” in the state election system and said the decision to cut the new spending ultimately came down to money for employee compensation.

“In our rather aggressive effort to take back funds to pay for compensation, the Department of Elections was one of the areas that took a hit,” she said.

Ultimately, Vogel said she’s counting on the conference committee with the House, which kept the funding, to address the concerns.

The one surprise in the House came late in the day, when Republicans passed a floor amendment offered by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, to insert language stating that no funding should pay for abortions “except otherwise required by federal law.”

Taxpayer funding of abortion through Medicaid already is prohibited except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother. Marshall said his amendment, which is unlikely to be approved by the Senate, would prohibit funding for abortions in cases of fetal impairment or disability.

“Not one dime should be spent to kill such children,” Marshall said on the floor.

Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax, argued “very few” poor women take advantage of that exception.

“I would ask the body not to be cruel to these women and reject this amendment,” Sickles said.

The amendment passed on a 60-34 party-line vote.

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