K-12 Public Education
Public education funding was the top priority of the Senate's Democratic-led budget negotiators. The final budget agreement makes $253 million in K-12 education cuts over the biennium, but prevents over $400 million in additional cuts that were desired by the House of Delegates. The Virginia Education Association estimates that this protected 12,118 jobs in our schools. The Senate also rejected the House of Delegates' plan to cripple at-risk programs by turning their funding into "block grants," and rejected the House's plan to eliminate funding for teachers' planning periods in middle and high schools.
Governor McDonnell's decision to unfreeze the Local Composite Index, the formula by which the state funds local schools, would have reduced funding to 97 Virginia school districts. The Senate fought to mitigate these reductions and the final budget will hold these districts harmless in 2011 and 50% harmless in 2012.
School districts asked for any cuts to be temporary and for flexibility to implement the required reductions. These elements were key components of the Senate's budget and are reflected in the final budget agreement.
The Virginia Commission for the Arts and public broadcasting faced elimination under some budget proposals, but the final budget moves towards the Senate position by imposing a 15% cut instead of total elimination.
Health and Human Resources
The Senate fought to preserve the healthcare safety net because of the unprecedented demand being placed upon providers. Accordingly, the final budget agreement incorporates the Senate's proposals to restore funding to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, community health centers and free clinics.
$130 million will maintain eligibility standards for Virginia's FAMIS program, allowing more low-income children and pregnant women to receive needed healthcare. The budget also includes $75 million to support home and community-based care for disabled Virginians.
The House of Delegates' budget used approximately $370 million in forthcoming federal Medicaid assistance for a variety of non-healthcare related purposes. The final budget reflects the Senate's proposal to use this Medicaid assistance to reimburse doctors who treat low-income patients.
The Senate fought to restore funding to protect the jobs of sheriffs' deputies and local police officers and this budget will keep 2,000 cops on the streets. Commonwealth's attorneys will also be given the resources they need to hold offenders accountable.
The budget dedicates $3.6 million to protect children from online predators. A proposal from Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) created the Internet Crimes Against Children fund which will support law enforcement task forces through a $10 fee on all misdemeanor and felony convictions.
The final budget agreement includes approximately $46 million for economic development programs as requested by Governor McDonnell. Included in the package is a $12.1 million increase for the Governor's Opportunity Fund, $5 million for an industrial mega-site, $7.2 million for promotion of international and domestic tourism and $6 million for development of overseas markets.
Employee Compensation and Benefits
Significant savings were achieved through $620 million in deferred payments to the Virginia Retirement System. At the insistence of Senate Democrats, the budget includes language to require repayment of this money beginning in 2013.
The budget includes a 3% bonus for state employees in 2011 if funds are available, and includes only one furlough day in 2010.
Other Budget Provisions of Note
· $18.2 in nongeneral funds for agricultural best management practices to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
· $167.8 million for locally-elected constitutional officers such as sheriffs, sheriff's deputies, commissioners of revenue and treasurers.
· Increase oversight and streamlining of the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA).
· Support for Rt. 58 in Southside Virginia and rail projects throughout the state.