Details of Virginia’s budget deal
Thursday, March 12, we returned to Richmond to finish the biennium budget. As in every budget, there are good and not so good things.
It is, however, important that we all have budgets whether it be families, businesses, or governments. If not, we tend to spend when we ought to be saving.
Once a budget is agreed upon, it is then up to the governor and his staff to closely follow the revenues coming in to make sure spending is reduced if revenues don’t meet expectations. Just as your family would need to adjust spending if your income is reduced.
This leaves us with a major question that we attempted to address on Thursday. Between the time that the budget negotiators agreed to a plan and the few days later that we came back to Richmond, the world changed dramatically. The Corona virus and the reaction to it caused turmoil in the business world from jobs, travel, and events, to the stock market.
No one expected the stock market to drop 10% in less than a week. The budget did not reflect these events. We attempted to delay the vote for a few weeks in hopes that we could better understand how lasting these effects might be. This would have allowed us to better set priorities as to how to cut back to match whatever the economy delivers.
State budgets must factor in all revenue expected. Therefore, the booming national economy has more people working and employees earning more. That revenue must be accounted for whether it be spending or saving, whether it be taxes or tuition that you pay to a college, or a federal research grant to a university.
Thankfully, the House agreed to the Senate’s position that, rather than borrowing money for needed construction, we are planning to spend cash on some of those projects. As well, we set aside $2 billion in case things are not as rosy as was expected a week earlier.
Raises for our teachers, state employees, and such folks as those who work in the sheriff, treasurer, and commissioner’s offices are included in the budget. We fell behind during the years after the collapse of the economy in 2008 and 2009. However, this will require our counties to adjust their spending to meet the match required for our teachers.
In addition to raises, the budget provides for more assistance in the realm of early childhood learning in both our schools and non-school settings. Likewise, the need for more counselors in our schools was recognized. The budget calls for one counselor for every 325 students. A problem with this is there may not be enough trained counselors statewide. This may leave smaller, poorer counties not being able to fill positions as the wealthier counties that pay better may attract them away.
At the community college level, we agreed to assist those students that are focused on pursuing high-level skills that are in short supply. Such things as skilled trades, healthcare, and law enforcement. Likewise, we agreed to more assistance for those focused on the computer science field. For those who have children in or about to attend college, we funded more for tuition freezes and need-based assistance.
Not only will our prison guards, troopers, and deputies be receiving raises, there is an attempt to give additional raises for those who have been good long-term employees who have suffered from pay compression. Some of our most experienced and loyal troopers and guards are making only marginally more than new hires. This is not right. We also provided funds to our town and city police departments, allowing them to adjust pay as needed.
Understanding that the most effective way to protect our rivers and bay is to empower and assist farmers in keeping livestock out of streams, we invested $80 million in these projects. We have many Soil and Water District dams that are showing wear and tear. We invested $15 million more in rehabilitating them.
FRANK RUFF JR. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen. Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.