Last week was budget week at the General Assembly. In addition to addressing roughly 2,300 pieces of legislation this session, the General Assembly must pass a biennial budget for 2014-2016 spending levels. I am pleased to report that the House has presented a fiscally responsible budget that is structurally balanced and invests in the core functions of government that best meet the needs of Virginia citizens.

Our budgeting approach works. Since 2007, we have cut nearly $7 billion in spending. Virginia’s general fund spending has grown at a rate of less than 1 percent. Our cautious, conservative approach has netted Virginia nearly $2 billion in surpluses over the last four years. As is Constitutionally-required, we have included a $243 million Rainy Day Fund deposit that bring the fund to over $900 million.   We have also set aside nearly $140 million for a revenue reserve fund to offset any potential economic slowdown. This revenue reserve will be used to absorb any future revenue reductions.

We have added $6.2 million dollars to create 1,700 additional in-state slots at William & Mary, Virginia Tech, James Madison, and the University of Virginia. We’ve also committed $20 million in new funding to help mitigate increased tuition costs. Tuition increases for the last two years, at 4 and 4.7%, are some of the lowest tuition increases in the last decade.

Our goal is to continue with this trend so more Virginia students can attend the Commonwealth’s world class universities. K-12 education will see nearly a $531 million net increase in the House budget. This additional funding for students, teachers, and our school systems accounts for approximately 25% of the new spending in the budget. A majority of the funds will help cover increased contributions to teacher retirement funds and teacher health care benefit premium rates. $25 million will be used for new school construction loans. $7.5 million will go towards reading and math initiatives, the Teach for America program, and National Board Certification bonuses for teachers.

We also value our state employees for their service to the Commonwealth and want to reward them for their hard work. If Virginia’s economy continues to grow, and we meet our revenue projected costs, the revenue reserve will be used to provide a 2% bonus, effective July 2015, to state employees.

While the House has put forth a responsible budget, all of this is in jeopardy because the Senate has injected Medicaid expansion into their budget.  They are putting funding for teachers, firefighters, police officers, state employees, hospitals, colleges and others in danger so they can get Medicaid expansion passed. This is unacceptable and we will hold strong in the House against expansion. We need to improve the services for current Medicaid recipients before we inflate the system by potentially adding hundreds of thousands of people.

I want to note some of the many visitors from the 17th District that visited the Capital this week. We had representatives from several local organizations: the Roanoke Regional Partnership, AARP, and the Southwest Virginia Dietetics Association, as well as students and teachers from William Byrd Middle School. I enjoyed talking with them about a range of issues facing the Commonwealth. I am pleased to announce that four more of my bills have passed the Senate- HB 97, HB 369, HB 476, and HB 702.

Remember that I always welcome constituents to visit if you will be in Richmond during the Session.  If you are not able to make it up for a visit please call804-698-1017or email delchead@house.virginia.gov <mailto:delchead@house.virginia.gov> with any thoughts or concerns on legislation as we go along.  It is important I hear from you so that I may represent your interests and those of the Roanoke Valley as your Delegate.