By Margo Maier, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Republican legislators applauded Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision Thursday to sign the 2014-2016 state budget without amendments or vetoes. It was the first time since 1998 that a governor has approved a budget in toto.
The budget that the General Assembly passed ahead of schedule this year reduces general fund spending by about $1 billion but includes pay raises for teachers and state employees.
“Today I was proud to sign a budget bill that provides a strong foundation for our future – a foundation built on collaboration and a shared commitment to building a new Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said.
“This budget closes our revenue shortfall responsibly, avoids cuts to core programs like education and invests in key priorities that are essential to economic growth. It also includes my top priorities of increasing funding for economic development; offering health-care services to more Virginians who need them; giving Virginia state employees a much-needed raise; funding the first lady’s school breakfast initiative; and supporting efforts to end homelessness across the commonwealth.”
GOP leaders were pleased by McAuliffe’s approval of the budget.
“Through the budget shortfall last year, the House of Delegates worked very hard to prevent any cuts to K-12 education. Not only were we able to do that again this year, but we were also able to provide our teachers with a pay raise,” said Del. Tag Greason, R-Loudoun.
“This is the second pay raise in three years. It reflects our commitment to attracting and retaining the best and brightest teachers. The budget also provides funding to continue our efforts to reform and improve the State’s Assessment System and the Standards of Learning tests.”
Additional praise came from such Republicans as House Speaker William J. Howell; Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Del. Steve Landes of Weyers Cave, the committee’s vice-chairman.
“This has been one of the smoothest budget processes in recent memory and it was punctuated today by Gov. McAuliffe’s signature,” Jones said.
“Since last summer, the House, Senate and the administration have developed a renewed commitment to bipartisanship and cooperation, allowing us to show that once again Virginia is a model for the nation. This is a good budget that reflects our priorities.”
Landes said the budget was crafted “with remarkably little controversy or disagreement.” He then raised a point of contention in the early budget discussions: McAuliffe’s request that the General Assembly expand Medicaid, the health program for low-income residents, as encouraged by the federal government’s health care law. Republican legislators rejected Medicaid expansion.
“I have said many times that Medicaid expansion is the wrong approach for Virginia. The document signed today offers an alternative approach that emphasizes providing targeted care to those who need it most, rather than a one-size-fits-all, government-run entitlement program,” Landes said.
“We are helping the seriously mentally ill, strengthening our free clinic system and building on past efforts to improve community behavioral health services.”