Today the House of Delegates easily passed amendments to the two-year budget, closing a billion dollar hole caused by slower revenue growth than predicted. The House scraped together some fund balances, eliminated a few Governor McAuliffe initiatives, and borrowed well over $500 million from the rainy day fund. Under Virginia law, the General Assembly can borrow from the fund when certain assumed revenue measures are not realized. The Code section is complicated but there are strict rules about when the money has to be paid back. The “revenue stabilization fund” was developed during the Doug Wilder Administration and has proven invaluable over the years because our revenue sources are sensitive to minor economic fluctuations and we are required to maintain a balanced budget. Having the fund contributes to our strong financial position and to maintaining a Triple-A bond rating from all three rating agencies, an accomplishment the Commonwealth has achieved each year since 1938.
Budget. The highlight of the budget was a three percent pay raise for state employees, a two percent pay raise for partially funded state positions, and more money for K-12 sent back to the school divisions on a per pupil basis. The budget continued to make a priority of mental health. $20 million was returned to Higher Education, although the cuts in that area are still significant. The House partially restored money to research and to regional business development initiatives.
Unfortunately, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) offered an amendment to the budget that passed, over strong Democratic objections, that prohibits Medicaid from paying for abortions when “a physician who is trained and qualified to perform such tests certifies in writing, after appropriate tests have been performed, that he believes the fetus will be born with gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency.” This provision has provided help to only 12-24 poor women per year at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. I have spoken out about this cruel amendment several times over the years, including yesterday, when it has passed the House (it has heretofore been defeated in the House-Senate conference on the budget). This is a medical procedure that any member of the House would undertake, or recommend for their loved ones, given those stated conditions, but the Majority wants to deny to poor women. I do not know why people believe that a woman would carry a pregnancy forward for eight or nine months and then, all of a sudden, want an abortion on a lark. With this terrifying new information in hand, it could be a woman’s hardest decision ever and one that could very well constitute a grave danger to her.
WMATA. Or Metro has been a subject of much discussion in Richmond over the last three weeks. We passed a measure that establishes the three-state safety oversight agency that will provide an independent check on the system. DC and Maryland also have to pass the exact same language. This is a critically necessary second step to restore public confidence in Metrorail. There is a good deal of budget language addressing WMATA that requires the agency to up their game and report back to us on their progress.
As you know, a new series of SAFETRACK single tracking maintenance is just getting underway. Sometime during 2017, this safety surge will be replaced by a new train schedule that will provide the system more time for maintenance on a routine basis--something that was neglected over the years. Obviously, we badly need this system to work for the Region for multiple reasons. FYI, there are always parking spaces available at Huntington--come get one!