4 Questions that Still Need to be Answered About Virginia's State Budget
Drawing up the state budget happens every two years, and the process is plugging along now at the capitol. The Governor has made his suggestions, and this weekend Virginia’s House and Senate issued theirs. Now it’s on to wrangling out the details.
With three weeks left to finalize the specifics -- lawmakers, lobbyists, and the Governor will be scrutinizing all three proposals to figure out how best to use taxpayer dollars over the next two years. We take a look at what still needs to be pinned down.
• Who Gets A Raise, When
Everyone agrees that state employees are owed a raise, but the question is how much and beginning when. The Senate Finance Committee says 2-percent to begin this year. The House is asking for slightly more, a 3-percent raise -- also to begin soon. Plus, the House is hopeful that additional money can be set aside to give another 1-percent raise next year.
Both are different from what Governor Terry McAuliffe suggested, which was a 2-percent raise, but not until next year.
• Who Decides How Education Funding is Spent
Also uncontroversial, is that it’s time to give public education a boost. The Governor’s initial budget parceled out an additional billion in k-12 spending, and the House’s budget actually adds $70 million more to that.
But there's a bigger disagreement on how much obligation to tie to the money. The Governor specified a chunk of money for hiring new teachers and to help at-risk students, lawmakers though want to get rid of language that specifies how money should be spent and leave it up to localities to decide.
• How Many Bonds to Sell & What to Do With the Revenue
Early on in this process, the Governor announced a huge proposal to raise $2.4 billion by selling bonds. He earmarked about half of that money for projects at colleges and universities, including expanding STEM programs at community colleges and supporting research at four-year institutions.
But the House has gone through and slashed those plans, reducing the bond package by almost a billion and trying to focus on projects that have already completed the planning process.
• What Happens to Uninsured Virginians
Noticeably absent from either the House or the Senate budgets is an expansion of Medicaid to the 400,000 uninsured Virginians. The Governor has tried unsuccessfully for 3 years now to expand Medicaid in the state. He was hopeful that a creative proposal to raise funds through a self-imposed tax on hospitals would convince Republicans in the legislature. Those hopes were finally dashed this weekend when it didn’t appear in either budget.
While the House and the Senate are in agreement that Medicaid won't be expanded, they aren't in agreement about whether to reimburse hospitals more for the services they provide to those patients who do have Medicaid. The Senate suggests raising reimbursements to keep up with inflation, while the House is opting not to.
More detailed information about all budget proposals are available on the state's website.