House budget is fiscally responsible
Published 7:46 pm Monday, February 27, 2012
By Delegate S. Chris Jones
The House 2012-2014 biennial budget was passed on Feb. 23, providing a structurally balanced budget making strategic investments in the core areas of government that House Republicans have emphasized this session — helping create private sector jobs, improving education opportunities, protecting our families and ensuring we have a more efficient and effective state government. Most important, we have made targeted investments without raising taxes on Virginia families and businesses.
During this time of continued economic uncertainty, our top priority remains helping Virginia businesses create new jobs and opportunities. To that end, we extended several tax credits for Virginia businesses, including the major facilities job tax credits that are tied to job growth and capital investment to encourage business investment in Virginia.
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We have also extended the capital gains tax credit for investments in startup businesses to increase capital for small business job creators.
To help Virginia farmers and expand Virginia’s largest industry, we have established an Agriculture and Forestry Development Fund with $2 million in funding to grow our world market. Recognizing that government can sometimes best help by staying out of the way, we removed several proposed fee increases that hinder job creation.
To improve educational opportunities, we added $575 million for K-12 public education and nearly $200 million for Virginia’s colleges and universities. The increase for public schools will fund important programs such as K-3 class size reductions and early reading intervention.
Our $200 million investment in higher education follows on the “Top Jobs” higher education reform legislation passed with unanimous support in the 2011 General Assembly.
Part of this funding will open an additional 1,700 slots for in-state students at William and Mary, University of Virginia, James Madison University and Virginia Tech. We have also included funding to help our colleges expand degrees in the high-demand fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health care to support 21st century job growth.
In the area of protecting our families, we have added $14.8 million over the biennium for our sheriff departments. For those brave men and women who have served our country, we have included additional funding in the Department of Veterans Services to increase the number of veterans’ claims agents to help speed up the processing of veterans’ claims.
Protecting our families includes ensuring our most vulnerable citizens have the care they need. Our budget restores many proposed cuts to the health safety net, including proposed cuts to free health clinics. We also have provided funding for 970 new intellectual disability waivers and 100 new developmental disability waivers. The waivers provide the funds to move family members with disabilities from distant training centers to health care support near home.
To make our state government more efficient and effective, we have found savings in a number of areas, including $2.8 million in our legislative budget. In total, we were able to reduce agency budgets and return more than $32 million to the general fund over three years.
We have also tackled one of the biggest issues impacting future budgets, the Virginia Retirement System’s unfunded liability. We have designated $2.2 billion toward paying down this unfunded liability. This investment, coupled with several proposed reforms to the retirement system, represents an important step towards safeguarding the VRS for our current and future employees.
Mindful the growth of the national economy is below expectations, we have taken the prudent step of adding $300 million to increase our Rainy Day Fund to $600 million. While significant progress has been made in the budget thus far, there is still much work to be done. The House budget has been communicated to the Senate and awaits that body’s action.
Serving as a budget conferee, I along with the other House conferees can only wait to see what actions will be taken by the Senate. The Senate failed to obtain the constitutionally required votes to report out its version of the budget.
Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th) can be reached at 804-698-1076. Email him at Delcjones@house.virginia.gov.