Lawmakers to propose amendments to state budget

2/10/2015 –

Working with revenue projections that forecast an additional $408 million coming to state coffers, leading lawmakers from the House of Delegates today will propose amendments to Virginia’s two-year budget that provide raises for state employees, state police, state-supported local employees, teachers and college faculty.

The proposal from House budget writers also dedicates roughly $103 million to the state’s so-called “rainy day” fund, eliminates $42.5 million in proposed debt spending and proposes paying cash for all capital projects scheduled in the current budget — including $100 million in 2016 for higher education infrastructure improvements to buildings at James Madison University, Longwood University, Radford University, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University.

In addition, budget proposals include $42 million to accelerate by two years the state’s obligation to fund state employee retirement plans in the Virginia Retirement System.

They also include an overall increase of $60 million in K-12 funding over Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal — $40 million of which will go into funding for teacher retirements that spares localities additional funding obligations.

“It’s a conservative and structurally balanced budget,” said Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Paying cash for capital projects, advancing payments to VRS, rainy-day deposits accomplished that, and a high priority for us was a raise for state employees, our most valuable asset.”

This year the budget has more spending flexibility than in previous years, with an improving state economy generating higher-than-projected revenues from income, corporate, real estate and sales taxes paid to the commonwealth treasury.

Committee members stressed that the raises and the capital outlay funding is contingent on revenues living up to the forecast.

This afternoon the Virginia Senate will present its amendments to the two-year budget, formally beginning the process by which both chambers of the General Assembly negotiate and compromise on spending priorities they will submit to McAuliffe by the end of the legislative session on Feb. 28. State law requires Virginia’s budget to be balanced.

Jones said that he believes the House and Senate proposals will be “close” on monies allocated for compensation, the rainy-day fund, capital spending and revenue projections.

The House proposal would eliminate roughly $10 million in fees included in McAuliffe’s amendments to the budget, while allocating nearly $20 million to boost enrollment in public colleges and universities, including a $1,000 per student incentive to encourage schools with low graduation rates to accept transfer students.

Budget writers have also proposed cuts to requests by the governor for pre-kindergaten education and redirected an “after-the-bell” in-school breakfast program championed by first lady Dorothy McAuliffe to a local school division option limited to elementary schools.

The House proposal also provides a substantial increase for the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, but provides $7.8 million less than McAuliffe requested for the economic development tool.

Funds would increase from $11.8 million in each year of the budget to $19.9 million and $20.75 million respectively, with additional oversight built in the expenditure of large portions of the fund.

In addition to the GOF funding, House budget writers also included $4 million dedicated to pursuing a Department of Energy contract that would result in the construction of an ion collider at the Jefferson Laboratory in Newport News, a potential $1 billion economic development project.

By JIM NOLAN Richmond Times-Dispatch