There are just two weeks left in the 2016 General Assembly session, but we continue at a fast pace here in Richmond. This past week, the House passed a new two-year state budget. The budget is the most important work we do each year at the State Capitol.
The House produced a conservative and responsible state budget that carefully manages taxpayer resources by prioritizes saving and reducing borrowing. We also make targeted investments in our schools, colleges, and universities. The budget highlights our efforts to grow Virginia’s economy and support the healthcare safety net.
Now that the House budget has passed, our budget negotiators will work with the Senate to craft a final agreement that can be sent to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature.
The House takes a conservative and cautious approach to budgeting your tax dollars. Our budget does not include any tax or fee increases. It deposits $605 million in the state’s rainy day fund, restoring the fund to 90% of its previous balance, saving for when there might be future economic downturns. The budget reduces what Virginia will borrow over the next few years by over $900 million compared to what Governor McAuliffe proposed.
The wisdom of this approach was on full display last year, when Virginia saw the largest single-year revenue surplus in state history.
Our commitment to educating our children for the future is unwavering. The House budget invests nearly $70 million more in our public schools than Governor McAuliffe’s proposal. In addition, the House sends over $270 million back to local schools through the lottery program, which gives school leaders significantly more flexibility than either the Senate budget or Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget. Our schools will be able to use these funds to meet their unique needs, rather than answer to one-size-fits-all mandates from Richmond.
We also make significant investments in higher education in order to help make college more affordable for Virginia families. Our budget includes $66 million more than Governor McAuliffe proposed, and we have designate $237.1 million to hold tuition increases to three percent or less per year. These investments will improve access and affordability at our colleges and universities.
We continue to hold the line against Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The House budget does not include Medicaid expansion. For years, we have argued that Virginia cannot afford to expand Medicaid and the experiences of other states prove that. Just this week, we learned that Kentucky’s Medicaid program faces a $611 million shortfall, largely because of Medicaid expansion.
Instead of expanding an expensive and inefficient program, the House budget invests $28.9 million in new funding to build a stronger healthcare safety net, including funding for substance abuse treatment, to create two new Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) teams that provide patient-driven, proactive, personalized, team-based care to patients with serious mental illnesses. We also expand eligibility for the GAP program, related to medical and behavioral health coverage, to 80% of the poverty level. Our budget provides for 100 new Developmental Disability waiver slots to address the critical waiting list backlog of people transitioning from institutionalize care to community based care.
The House budget funds strategic and targeted investments in economic development, while promoting increased accountability and oversight in coordination with our legislative priorities. The budget includes $110 million in new money for economic development, $59 million less than Governor McAuliffe originally proposed. The $59 million was re-directed to K-12 and higher education.
We are fully committed to strengthening Virginia’s economy, but not with a blank check from taxpayers. The House budget directs funds to two initiatives, GO Virginia and the Virginia Research, Development and Commercialization Fund, both of which have strict accountability and oversight requirements. This will help ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
Last week my magistrate bill (HB1275) passed on the Senate floor on its 3rd reading. My hunting with slingshot bill (HB 1142) and my hunter’s trespass bill (HB 1329) are being heard on the Senate Floor this week as well. HB 476, my animal intake policy bill, has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
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 my job representing you better. You can email me at DelMFariss@virginia.house.gov or call me at (804)698-1059. You can also join the conversation on our social media page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.