Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Not with a bang but a whimper"

As far as VEA is concerned, it appears that Special Session I has essentially concluded.  The remaining issue which could have a long range impact on education funding, Medicaid Expansion, may be decided by the judicial branch.

From a legislative perspective, we did make some gains in 2014:
  A-F School Grading Delay

  SOL Reform

  Pension Funding

  From 5 to 10 Days to Contest Dismissal

  Lactation Support

From a budget perspective the high point of the session was Governor McAuliffe’s introduction of his budget, which used the $225 million in savings achieved by expanding Medicaid, in part, to provide the state share of a 2% salary increase for teachers and support personnel and included language to allow local school divisions to participate in the state’s health insurance program.
Economic projections tanked, Senator Puckett’s resignation changed the balance in the Senate, and the House successfully, at least for now, blocked the Medicaid Expansion, which would have freed up General Fund dollars for education.  So the session, which at points had raised hopes, ended “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

One House member, as he left the Capitol yesterday, shared his assessment that education had done well, as the $404.2 million for the rebenchmarking remained in the final budget.  I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but we will still be running our schools on less than we had in 2009.  Our average teacher salary is 37th in the nation, $7,456 behind the national average, and our state per-pupil funding for PreK-12 ranks 39th.  We are the 10th wealthiest state in the nation, and our per-capita state and local taxes as a percent of personal income ranks 46th. 

The General Assembly seems all about balancing the budget and little about support for our public schools.  Virginia can clearly do better, and, as this session ends, we need to prepare to keep up the fight in the 2015 session.
Click here for a detailed report on the budget including funding for each division.

Senator Puckett’s resignation changed the balance of power in the Senate, and the Republicans reorganized the Senate last night.  Click here to see the new Senate Committee assignments.

 

Friday, June 13, 2014

We Have a Budget


It’s not over until it’s over, but only judicial appointments and the veto session keep the 2014 Special Session I of the General Assembly from being over.

Tumult preceded yesterday’s session, which ended well past midnight.  A botched revenue forecast put the state $1.55 billion behind projections.  Senator Philip Puckett resigned, returning the Senate to Republican control, and Representative Eric Cantor was upset by Tea Party upstart David Brat.

These three events created a perfect storm which led to a very disappointing budget outcome last night. 

Hastened by the anticipated revenue shortfall in the next biennium and the need to pass a budget by June 30 to access the “Rainy Day Fund” to partially offset this shortfall, the General Assembly worked frantically to pass the 2014-2016 biennial budget.  This budget includes a $847.5 million revenue reserve fund and anticipates a $707.5 million withdrawal from the “Rainy Day Fund” to achieve balance.

The good news is that rebenchmarking and VRS funding were not cut.  The bad news is that we lost the teacher and support staff salary increases and the language allowing school division participation in the state health insurance program.

Had Medicaid Expansion been included in the budget, the resulting $225 million in savings could have offset some of the shortfall and consequently have reduced the cuts.

The new Republican Senate majority, empowered by Puckett’s resignation and fearful of Brat-inspired Tea Party primaries, inserted Senator Stanley’s amendment thwarting any effort by the Governor to expand Medicaid without the approval of the General Assembly.

Will the Governor sign the budget, line-item veto this section of the budget, or will he veto the entire budget and send the General Assembly back to work?