Virginia Senate Passes Budget

Fiscally Responsible Budget Includes Funding for Education, Mental Health and other Core Services

(Richmond, Va.) – With recent revenue decreases and a budget deficit of over two billion dollars, the Virginia Senate passed a fiscally responsible budget that makes targeted budget cuts while still funding core services like education, health care and mental health.

“We faced a monumental task this year – carving over $2 billion out of the three-year budget period before us,” Senate Finance Chairman Charles Colgan (D-Prince William). “Over the course of the fall, we saw warning signs in the national economy, led by a steep decline in the housing market. 

“We balanced the budget by recognizing revised revenue forecasts, using a limited amount of one-time resources, withdrawing funds from the Rainy Day Fund consistent with Constitutional limitations, and making targeted reductions to expanded or new spending rather than additional across-the-board cuts,” Colgan said.  “Today we passed a fiscally responsible budget while still ensuring we are making the investments necessary to keep Virginia moving in the right direction.”

Education

The Virginia Senate budget provides an increase in aid to localities for public education over the base of $337 million in fiscal year 2009 and $537 in fiscal year 2010.  Furthermore, the budget includes $870 million for re-benchmarking the SOQs.

The budget also provides an additional $38 million into the Virginia Pre-School Initiative. Currently the VPI serves roughly 13,000 four-year-olds.  New investments in the VPI would cover 10 percent of four-year-olds currently receiving reduced price lunch in FY09 and 20 percent in FY10 bringing the number of children enrolled in these programs to 21,500 in FY 09 and 22,680 in FY 10.

“Our Commonwealth is continuing to grow and funding public education is the best investment we can make,” Senator Edward Houck, Senate Finance committee member and budget conferee, said.  “The money we invest in our children will help ensure higher graduation rates and an educated work-force in Virginia. 

“Expanding the Virginia Pre-School Initiative is critical to keeping Virginia moving forward.  It has been shown that investing in pre-school education will increase the chances a child is able to read by the third grade.  And if a child is able to read by third grade, they have a much higher chance of success throughout the rest of their lives.”

In addition, the Senate budget includes funding for the state’s share of a 2.5 percent teacher salary increase, effective December 2009.

It also avoided any further cuts to higher education and retained $18.2 million for undergraduate student financial aid.

Mental Health

To address the Commonwealth’s urgent need for reform of its mental health system, the Virginia Senate budget included an additional $42 million to expand community-based mental health services.

Those services include outpatient services for children and adults, case management services, emergency services, services to divert individuals with mental illness from jails and prisons, crisis intervention training, and licensing staff and accountability.

“Our budget provides enough funds to truly make a difference in our mental health system,” Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), Senate finance committee member and budget conferee, said.  “This was one of our priorities heading into the session.  We knew this was critical and the funds appropriated in this budget will help reform Virginia’s mental health system.”

The Senate finance budget also provides $500,000 for behavioral health services for veterans and $328,354 related to the involuntary commitment of minors (SB276).

Budget Cuts

The Senate budget avoided across-the-board cuts to state agencies and local governments.

Cutting agencies across the board would cause harm to services to citizens throughout the Commonwealth including health services, public safety, prisons, etc.  
Cuts to local government funds would have directly affected the budgets of local governments that are relying on these funds, resulting in increased property taxes in localities throughout the Commonwealth.

Additional Budget Items:
• $13.9 million for improvements to foster care and adoption services;
• $147 million in new funds for transportation;
• Increased Medicaid coverage to pregnant mothers up to 200% of the poverty level;

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