Having finished the “long” (60-day) session of the General Assembly, both Houses of the General Assembly adjourned to consider competing budgets. The subcommittees of the two budget committees, Senate Finance and House Appropriations, are meeting for the purpose of finding grounds to compromise on the Commonwealth’s two-year budget.
During the next several weeks conferees will meet frequently to develop those compromises. An important difference this year is the 20-20 partisan split in the Senate. On most matters this year, Republican Lt. Governor, William Bolling, has broken the tie in favor of Republicans in the Senate. One result of this situation has been Senate committees with significantly more Republican than Democratic members.
According to the Virginia Constitution the Lt. Governor cannot vote on the budget. Therefore, to avoid gridlock on the budget vote, at least one Senate member must vote with the other party. So far the Senate Finance Committee has avoided deadlock because members have been able to find compromises that allow the conferees to resolve some differences fairly quickly. Other decisions have been left for a later day.
Needless to say, the budget matters left for later are those that are most difficult on which to compromise. For example, most Senate Republicans, unfortunately, agreed with the Governor’s proposal to move millions of dollars of the Commonwealth’s general fund from education to transportation. Senate conferees may find a way to reverse some of the proposed education cuts. If so, one matter important to Northern Virginia – Metro funding – is likely to be decided favorably for Northern Virginia, although not as favorably as Senate Democrats would prefer.
One Republican conferee has expressed doubt that differences in public education, transportation, and health and human services funding will be easily resolved. According to that Senator, the differences in spending are much larger in transportation and public education than in health and human services. One of the key differences appears to be funding for the so-called “cost of competing.” Northern Virginians believe that funding is critical because of the high cost of living in NoVa, but Republicans, particularly those from less urban areas, are dubious about accommodations in that area.
Of course, it is not unusual for conferees to have differences like those I have described. Previous budgets have been stalled on such disagreements. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this year.
Another important area of concern that arose “late in the game” is housing. All states received significant resources, made available from the housing foreclosure funds returned to the states. In Virginia the amount was approximately $80 million. Local governments and housing advocates have strongly urged the Commonwealth to use some of those funds to create a Housing Trust Fund to help localities address needs created by widespread foreclosures. While I strongly agree that a State Housing Trust Fund should have been created long ago, it is clear that only limited funds will be available in the near future. Any Housing Trust Fund created now must be only a beginning, not an end.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]