This week was the most challenging time of any General Assembly Session as the largest two events occur.
First, this year’s Crossover deadline arrived. This is when both the House and Senate are required to pass all bills other than revenue bills and the budget bill by midnight on Tuesday, February 16. Long work days on Monday and Tuesday resulted in a final tally of 983 House bills and 552 Senate bills being passed and sent to the other chamber. The deadline was met.
Second, the House Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member and chairman of the Compensation and Retirement Subcommittee, had to complete the proposed budget for the next two years and release it to the public and full House members by Sunday, February 21. The budget will then be voted on the floor next Thursday, February 25.
The House will propose a conservative budget that carefully guards your taxpayer dollars while investing responsibly in core functions of state government. It contains no tax or fee increases and is structurally balanced, meaning we are not funding items for which we are not confident we will have the money for in future years.
The budget deposits $605M into the Rainy Day Fund to bring it up to 90% of its previous balance and resulting in a new balance of $845M at the end of 2018.
We made a priority to increase funding for the Virginia Retirement System by a) moving up by two years full funding of the state contribution to VRS, and b) accelerating the $189.5M repayment for the contribution deferral we had to make in the 2010 recession crisis. This is six years ahead of our commitment to make up for the deferral.
The budget eliminates the accelerated sales tax on 90% of businesses by the end of 2018. It also contains a bond package for capital projects across the state at $1.5B, nearly 40% less than the $2.4B package proposed by the Governor in December 2015.
Our budget proposes a significant increase in K-12 education funding of $897.1M over the biennium, more than $70M proposed by the Governor, and includes a 2% teacher pay raise in the second year.
Much greater flexibility in how the funding is spent is also included, especially lottery proceeds distribution, which will not require a local match. For higher education and the community colleges, our budget increases funding for in-state students to hold tuition increases to 3%.
The budget also contains $10.2M to fund House legislation to prevent and combat domestic violence and to assist rapid housing efforts and to provide safe shelter for homeless veterans and victims of domestic violence.
The House budget does not include Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion or the Medicaid hospital “provider” tax or “gimmicks,” as referred to by the vice-president and Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Rather, the budget provides for a stronger Healthcare Safety Net increase of $28.9M for substance abuse treatment, two new PACT teams, increased eligibility for the GAP program, and creates new DD Waiver slots to address the critical waiting list. The effort to “redesign” the various waivers is well along, and I expect by the next session the new design should be rolling out.
Finally, the budget contains a 3% raise in the first year for state employees, state supported local employees, and college faculty. It also contains a 1% increase for 2018 to implement the findings and recommendations of Speaker Howell’s Commission on State Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform.
I am especially thankful to the members of my C&R Subcommittee and the HAC chairman for their hard work and efforts to provide this funding in the budget for our hardworking and deserving employees in all employee groups.
This week the House passed legislation to reform Virginia’s outdated Certificate Of Public Need (COPN) laws. Currently, providers must go through an expensive and lengthy process to obtain permission to build or expand facilities, provide additional services, or even expand parking. Moving to more of a free market approach should provide competition, drive down costs, and provide greater access to medical care.
I anticipate changes to the bills in the Senate with much discussion, debate and such, so this may be dubbed a work-in-progress. But at least the discussion has commenced.
This week the House passed HB773, the Government Nondiscrimination Act, which I supported. I am committed to defending religious freedom, which is one of our country’s founding liberties and most sacred principles. The bottom line to the bill is that the government cannot deny citizens certain services or accesses simply because of a citizen’s sincerely held religious beliefs, including beliefs in traditional marriage or natural gender roles.
The bill also specifically prevents the government from denying Theon the basis of a person’s religious beliefs an organization’s tax-exempt status or denying a tax deduction or credit; denying or revoking a church’s tax exempt status; denying grants, contracts, loans, loan guarantees or scholarships; denying state benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps; denying the use of state property or facilities; and, denying certification or licensure.
We should all be concerned when people are getting fired or being forced or pressured to fall in line with political correctness based solely on and because of their deeply held religious beliefs. The case of Brandon Eich being fired as CEO of Mozilla solely on his belief in traditional marriage should outrage every American, every Virginian. Moving forward, we should take every possible step to protect religious liberty and people of faith. That is what HB773 does.
To arrange a Capitol tour or schedule a meeting with me, contact my legislative assistant William Pace at (804) 698-1009 or DelCPoindexter@house.virginia.gov.