Budget Maneuvering

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the quirks about Virginia’s governing system is that an outgoing governor gets to submit a budget proposal for the upcoming biennium, when he will not be around to execute it.

It would be difficult for any new governor trying to deal with a budget that he had no part in developing. When the new governor is not of the same party as the outgoing governor, it gets even trickier because the new governor’s priorities will almost certainly be different.

The situation becomes even more interesting when the majority of at least one of the legislative chambers switches as well. The new party in power will have less than two months to try and unravel the outgoing governor’s budget and substitute its own priorities.

That scenario is beginning to play out in Virginia, of course. The Republican Glenn Youngkin will be replacing the outgoing Democrat Ralph Northam and the Republicans will replace the Democrats as the majority party in the House of Delegates.

Meanwhile, Governor Northam is doing his best to tie up the large projected additional budget revenue in ways that would make it politically difficult for the Republicans to undo.

The Governor will present his proposed budget to the General Assembly about a week from now, on December 16. I can remember when the contents of the proposed budget bill were a closely-kept secret, and politically attuned folks waited anxiously for its presentation. There was always a scramble for the documents. That tradition has been replaced by a system of well-timed announcements and “leaks” from the Governor’s office concerning high-profile items. By the time the budget is formally presented, the major items are already known.

The Governor started the announcements yesterday and continued them today. First, of course, was public education. Northam will be proposing 5% increases in teacher pay for each year of the biennium, for a total increase of 10.25% over the two-year period. Those salary increases are part of an additional $2.4 billion the governor will be proposing for pre-K through 12th grade over the biennium.  (That will probably preempt Youngkin’s campaign promise to have the largest education budget in history. He will have to wait until next year.)

Today, the Governor’s office announced major salary increases for public safety personnel. The starting salary for state troopers would increase by 8% and there would be provisions for increases for current officers as well. New correctional officers would start with a salary 25% higher than the current starting salary, and there would be funding for current officers to address compression issues. Finally, the starting salary for local and regional deputies would be 2o% higher.  In all, the two-year cost of the package would be $223 million.

There will likely be an announcement soon of general pay raises for other state employees as well.

The education and public safety packages account for about $2.6 billion of the forecast additional revenue. It probably will be difficult for the Republican House to attack these proposals, especially with the Democrats in the majority in the Senate. Of course, the devil could be in the details of the education package, but, generally, the two proposals will please the teachers, shore up Democrats’ support for public education, and move Democrats further from accusations of trying to “defund the police.”