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.

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7 responses to “Finally — a New Budget Bill

  1. Failure to adjourn will further delay enactment of the various bills they passed. Probably until March or even later. So what again was the point of this? But the appropriations act can go into effect.

    Agencies always have wants and sometimes have needs.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    The GA had better act now and appropriate more money for public schools. Fairfax County had nearly 10,000 fewer students than last year. When school budgets cut passed in the spring there are going to be a number of empty teacher chairs. Virginia is going to have to prop up public education somehow to avoid the necessary reduction in force coming to education. If that 10,000 figure was just high school students alone it would result in the unneeded help of 1,000 high school teachers. Local districts will not be able to cover the coming shortfall.

    • It makes sense to me for the State to be flexible on aid based on the number of students. It’s clear a number of students are being home schooled or sent to private schools because of both COVID-19 and the incompetence of many school administrators who are unable to operate any classes on live basis, may well return to public schools in the 2021-22 school year. Losing teachers and struggling to re-recruit them may not be the best long-run strategy.

      At the same time, seeing the public school failures may mean a start of a bigger trend towards school choice. Taxpayer should not be forced to subsidize attempts by public schools to engage in featherbedding or to crush school choice programs.

    • Given the observable inadequacies of online teaching one would think that Fairfax County could employ any surplus teachers as tutors to try to lessen the impact of degraded learning over the internet.

  3. I regard the $60 million for “affordable access” as a subsidy to higher-ed administrators than aid to students. Sure, nominally, the money will go to the tuition of select groups of students (probably based on income). But the subsidy takes the heat off colleges and universities to slash bureaucratic overhead, undertake other belt-tightening measures, and bring down costs in order to make tuition more affordable for everyone.

  4. “$11 million for a one-time $500 bonus to state law-enforcement and corrections officers.”

    Quick, someone let the F— UVa girl know. The Democrats in the General Assembly are handing out bonus checks to the KKKOps instead of using the money to build ramps into lawn dorm rooms. The Democratic governor is going to sign the budget. Is a “F— Northam” addition to the door sign under consideration?

  5. Thanks (once again) for the non-partisan report of the General Assembly actions.

    It has not been a “smooth” process because there are so many moving parts writ large, like the pandemic, and the “racism” thing, and, to be honest, the chaos at the Federal level – both Congress and the Administration. Everyone is getting whiplash.

    And I have to say, a lot of the players like the GA are waiting around to see who is going to lead the country come January and whether they will continue the chaos or not.

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