The House and the Senate acted on their respective budgets on Thursday, February 25, 2016. The Governor’s proposed budget includes many good items, such as substantial increases in K-12 and higher education, and for the most part the House budget embraced the Governor’s approach. Many of us have pushed to dramatically increase our investments in public education and the House budget increases K-12 funding by $897 million. For Charlottesville and Albemarle, this means hefty increases in the monies going to the localities, and some increased flexibility in how money gets spent. The House budget includes a 2 percent pay increase for teachers, something I have been pushing for years. Virginia has lagged behind other states in K-12 teacher salaries, and we are finally rectifying this situation.
There is also good news in this budget for higher education. Funding for our universities has lagged behind during the last decade, and the House has now recognized the importance of further investment by increasing funding by $290 million over the biennium. University faculty and personnel can also expect a raise if the House budget is approved. Beyond that, there is substantial money designed to spur research and to encourage the commercialization of creative ideas generated from our universities. This is a tremendous opportunity for the University of Virginia to further increase its impact, particularly in the area of bioscience. Many of you know that Charlottesville has become a mini-hub for bioscience research, both at the University and in the private sector. A number of biotech firms have emerged over the last several years here in Charlottesville. There are many provisions in this new budget that will further encourage collaboration between public and private entities. We have the opportunity to take the first step towards making the Commonwealth a prime location for creative minds from around the country who want to develop therapies and scientific breakthroughs to treat a variety of diseases, from pancreatic cancer to brain disorders.
While the House budget presents good progress in a number of areas, it also includes some significant deficiencies. The most apparent is the failure to embrace Medicaid expansion. Once the House Appropriations Committee rejected that approach, it created a $157 million deficit in the Governor’s introduced budget that had to be replaced with other monies. If we had taken Medicaid expansion, this $157 million could have been allocated to other important budgetary items, such as environmental protection, public safety, or pre-K education. My floor speech on these missed opportunities can be viewed below.
At this stage in the process, the House will consider the Senate budget and the Senate will consider the House budget. Those budgets will then be placed into a conference committee and various issues will be ironed out. We will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion to address this essential missed opportunity. While this is perhaps the best House budget that I have seen in the last ten years, it is my hope we will continue to work towards creating an even better one that can be supported at the end of the Session.