Special Session on Budget ended with $85 billion two year spending plan, but no plan for transportation
April 23, 2012
After a series of last-minute machinations, the General Assembly approved a two-year budget on April 18, 2012. The $85 billion, two-year budget took an additional 39 days to approve and ended speculation about a possible state government shutdown.
Most observers, myself included, never believed that we would come close to a shutdown and viewed this as a specter raised largely by Republicans to avoid discussing the real issues in the budget: education, adequate funding for the social safety net, and transportation.
When Governor McDonnell’s budget was initially proposed in December, it shortchanged K-12 education, the social safety net, and transportation. Albemarle and Charlottesville City schools would have faced serious shortfalls in their funding, and those most vulnerable would have been affected by draconian cuts in the McDonnell budget. The Governor’s only plan for transportation was to take monies from public education, mental health and public safety. This was unacceptable. Largely because of Democratic efforts, the initial House budget passed in March was far superior to the one proposed by McDonnell. Nonetheless, it was still inadequate and was, therefore, rejected by the Senate. You can view my comments on the initial House budget during floor debate here.
After a series of negotiations, monies diverted from education, mental health, and public safety to fund transportation were restored to the budget. Additional monies were also found for what is called “cost-to-compete” in Northern Virginia localities, which would allow them to recruit and retain teachers and other critical public employees.
Senate Democrats continued to exert pressure for transportation funding for projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. The Governor agreed to provide an additional $100 million to delay tolls on various tunnel and bridge projects for two years. The Governor, however, was not willing to advance additional monies for the Dulles rail project, where tolls are even higher. This prompted Democrats in the Senate to initially reject the new budget. The votes were tied until Senator Chuck Colgan, a Democrat from Prince William County, decided to vote with the Republicans in order to obtain a budget.
You can view my comments on the budget conference report proposal here.
During the debate in the Senate, the Route 29 bypass was mentioned several times, though there was no serious effort to move money from that project to the Dulles rail project. I had initially proposed taking some money from a project in Suffolk to fund Dulles rail, but the Route 29 bypass was never discussed in any of the House debates.
Democratic advocacy in the House made the final budget much better than the one proposed in January. We were able to secure substantially more money for K-12 education, a fact that will greatly help schools in Charlottesville and Albemarle. We secured an additional $45 million to provide the service and care to those who are unable to care for themselves through no fault of their own.
Democrats also succeeded in creating an Advanced Manufacturing Fund so that more jobs, especially in economically disadvantaged regions of the state, could be created. Funding for the Commonwealth Research and Commercialization Fund was restored. We successfully argued for the capitalization of Virginia Housing Trust Fund, and to close the so-called “Amazon Tax Loophole” (see my statement on the Amazon issue here).
The Governor still has an opportunity to modify the budget, which we will consider again in early May. With the exception of that meeting, our legislative sessions are now completed for the year. I will now be devoting my time to constituent service for this district, and will continue my role as House Democratic Leader.
Your support has been important to me throughout this year where the demands of my time have been even greater in this new leadership role. I am honored to represent you and appreciate your input and support.