Finally — a New Budget Bill

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The money committees have reported a “conference” budget bill, which the General Assembly will probably adopt either tomorrow or Saturday.

The legislature has backed off the earlier contingency appropriations that drew objections from the Governor.

As with any budget, there are numerous moving parts. The legislature would capture savings in several areas and provide additional spending in others. Here are some of the major spending items:

  • $95.3 million for K-12. The source of the money is revenue from licensing of “gray” machines or “games of skill.”
  • $60 million for higher education “to maintain affordable access.”
  • $11 million for a one-time $500 bonus to state law-enforcement and corrections officers.
  • $379.6 million over the biennium to reappropriate some of the $2 billion in new spending earlier unalloted due to revenue shortfalls.

The conferees also propose to designate how $1.2 billion of the federal CARES money should be allocated. Here are the major items:

  • $100 million—assistance for utility nonpayments
  • $120 million—Higher ed
  • $221 million—K-12
  • $210 million—Virginia Employment Commission
  • $76.6 million—stabilization of child care industry

In a move of fiscal conservatism, the budget conferees propose to move $89 million originally appropriated in the second year for deposit in the Rainy Day Fund to the first year for deposit into the Revenue Reserve Account. The effect is to take money that probably would not been needed for deposit into a reserve account until FY 2024 and deposit it into a reserve account in the current fiscal year.

The budget revisions take two actions regarding evictions. First, it freed up $2 million from the unalloted general fund appropriation to match a $2 million private donation to the State Bar to hire additional attorneys to represent persons facing evictions. Second, it extended the eviction moratorium to December 31, 2020. Beginning on January 1, 2021, landlords must allow renters with back due payments to enter into a payment plan for up to six months in order to pay off their back due amounts before proceeding with eviction proceedings.

According to a report in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, the General Assembly plans to go into recess, rather than adjourn, after this weekend until after the election. That will give it a chance to act on legislation setting up the new redistricting commission if the constitutional amendment on the general election ballot is adopted. That means the Governor will have only seven days to sign the budget bill or send back with amendments or item vetoes. I expect that he will sign it.

With the revised budget bill being enacted so late, the Governor and the Department of Planning and Budget now have to scramble to prepare the revised budget for submission to the 2021 Session. The deadlines are tight. The Governor is scheduled to present his proposed budget revisions to the legislature on December 16. The final revised bill must be ready to go to the printer approximately 10 days prior to that in order to have an actual bill ready. Therefore, all decisions must have been made by early December. That gives the Governor and DPB only about six weeks to receive budget requests from agencies, analyze them, and construct a budget. That is not a lot of time to conduct much analysis.

One would think that there would not be many changes to consider since the legislature has just finished some rewriting and the state is still facing fiscal uncertainty due to the pandemic. But, general fund revenue collections are above the newest projections and agencies always have needs.