The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, June 16, 2006

Raw Data: Senate Statement on Budget Deal

From the Virginia Senate Republican Leadership Trust...

Budget Conference Report Agreement
June 16, 2006

The agreement today on a budget by the Senate and House conference committee is good news for all Virginians. First, we will not have to travel over the uncharted waters of operating state government without specific budget authorization.

Just importantly, however, is the fact that we have a new, two-year spending plan that is sound, prudent and provides the important state services our citizens deserve and expect.

From the beginning, the Senate’s approach rested on two principles:

* At a time when there is a surplus it makes no sense to borrow money.
* No one program should be funded at the expense of another.

At the very outset the Senate insisted on taking up the capital portion of the budget since the House budget funded it with considerable borrowing. Once the House accepted that approach, a budget agreement balancing competing needs could be crafted. On several occasions the Senate had to insist that the negotiations encompass major differences in several program areas at once. It was important that no program get short shrift.

The budget agreement reached today meets both of those tests. It is a pay-as-you-go budget. Over $1 billion in construction projects are included without a penny of debt. Using cash saves over $1/2 billion in interest had a similar amount been financed over 20 years. And no funds traditionally used to support education, public safety, health care and the like are shifted to road building projects. The integrity of our funding system was preserved.

So what does this budget look like? Let’s take a look.

Tax Relief
Several tax relief measures passed, including:
* The repeal of the state estate tax, or so-called death tax takes effect July 1, 2007
* A back-to-school sales tax holiday will begin this August.
* A tax credit for the payment of long-term care insurance premiums is established.
* A tax credit for contributions designed to reduce tuition at schools for children with disabilities begins next year.

Over the last decade the General Assembly has passed over 50 tax relief measures the cumulative result of which is that Virginians pay over $1 billion less in taxes each year had they not been enacted. This figure will increase with the enactment of this budget which includes new tax relief included in the conference report at the suggestion of the Senate.

In K-12 education the basic aid to education was fully funded. Only with this investment can local governments have any prospects of holding the line on local real estate taxes. Teacher pay raises are provided for in both years of the budget.

In higher education more progress was made in meeting the states obligations in providing base adequacy which supports enrollment growth, faculty positions and faculty salaries. With 52,000 more students seeking admission to Virginia colleges in the next seven years, these investments are crucial.

In health care the state continues to assist in providing access to quality heath care at hospitals, nursing homes and community health centers. Particular attention was paid to preventive care, especially for children. Progress continues to be made in the mental health restructuring which moves to more community based care.

In natural resources the $200 million investment in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is augmented by continued support for the Southern Rivers project and clean drinking water programs throughout the state. The Senate insisted that all parts of Virginia receive that attention, not just those in the bay watershed.

In public safety new state trooper and probation officer position were created to administer the toughened violent sexual predators program and the improved Sex Offender Registry. Also fully funded is a new, state of the art forensics lab to reduce the backlog of DNA and other sophisticated scientific testing. At the insistence of the Senate, additional positions for local prosecutors are enabled.

The New “T – Word” – Transportation
For the first time since 1986 a comprehensive look transportation needs was attempted. The two-year budget will preserve the current level of funding and not raid the General Fund. However, a long term solution remains the challenge facing this Special Session which continues.

Only if the Senate and House agree on legislation that both deem to be a “long range transportation funding plan” will $339 million in this year’s budget be released to spend on transportation. Thus the work of the General assembly continue