As of Friday, We have finished day 31 of this year’s 46 day session. Two major deadlines passed – cross over and the vote each chamber’s budget.
Last Tuesday was the halfway point of the 2017 session, known as “crossover”. The Republican-led House of Delegate is making good progress on issues that matter most to you. Whether it is the need to strengthen our education system to maintain our global competitiveness or continue to enact conservative reforms that make government smaller and more efficient, our first and foremost responsibility is and always will be to govern.
We recognize that creating good paying jobs remains a top priority. The House passed legislation to prohibit local governments from adopting ordinance setting the minimum wage higher than the state government. We also passed legislation protecting small business owners that operate franchises from being forced to unionize their employees.
A major cornerstone of the House job growth agenda in 2016 legislation that established the Growth & Opportunity Board, the centerpiece of “GO Virginia”. This legislation suffered major cuts by the Governor. However, the House budget restored $7.5 million to continue this initiative that will foster job growth. GO Virginia is a business-driven initiative facilitates greater collaboration between the business community, higher education and local governments. By aligning the needs of the three segments, we will encourage the creation of good paying jobs in high demand fields, and make economic development dollars go further.
Education is the gateway to opportunity. No matter where a student comes from or what his or her background is, a good education can make anything possible. The House has worked hard to scale back SOL tests that sometimes emphasize memorize rote memorization. This year we expanded on this effort by passing legislation that gives a student the appropriate amount of partial credit for a multipart assessment if the entire question isn’t answered completely correct.
Virginia is fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the world – thanks in large part to our great teachers and local leaders who have made it their life’s work to educate our children. The House of Delegates has sought to provide these educators with the tools, resources and flexibility they need to provide our children with a world-class education. That includes reducing burdensome licensure and continuing education requirements. As such, the House passed legislation to waive certain licensure requirements for a teacher with an endorsement in career and technical education.
We are also taking action to control college costs. The only make college more affordable is not just with more money, but with specific actions to keep costs down. The House has passed legislation to set standard acceptance of dual enrollment credits taken in high school.
In December of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced his introduced budget. The driving force behind adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget is the over $1 billion shortfall that was announced last fall. Since the Governor’s presentation, the House Appropriations Committee conducted 5 public hearings across the state to receive input from our citizens on the priorities they would like to see addressed.
Last Thursday, the House voted on our version of the budget. Our budget reflects the tough choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget. We reviewed all discretionary spending and held fast to conservative budgeting while investing in the core functions of government.
State Employees and State Troopers: Our budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality. All told, the cost the 3% raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the 2% pay raise for state supported employees was $88.7 million. Funding is also included to provide our Deputy Sheriffs with their compression pay adjustments. Finally, an additional $15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.
K-12 Education: Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without a required local match. This year the House budget sends 40%, or $218.7 million, in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions. The schools get much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served, be it a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of getting to 100% of the required VRS contribution rate.
Higher Education: Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority of the House for years. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall cuts of nearly $80 million were announced by the Governor. The House budget restores $21.0 million to Higher Education to reduce cuts so that no school had a reduction greater than 1.4% of their budget.
Health and Human Resources: The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty level. We will also provide funding for supportive housing and same day access. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 DD waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
In closing, the House budget recommendations adhere to our commitment to strategically focus our resources, by keeping our promises to our state employees, and to fund the core services of government.
I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office over the coming months. I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you. You can email me at DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov or call me at (804)698-1059. You can also join the conversation on our social media page www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.