By Delegate Rob Bloxom
This is Rob Bloxom with this week’s Capitol Report. The House of Delegates unveiled its budget last week, and I will attempt to give an overview of the spending priorities. We focused on addressing the unique needs arising from the pandemic, including increasing funds for the Virginia Department of Health and residential nursing homes and accelerating the vaccine distribution. We also acknowledged that the temporary federal stimulus is currently being used to balance our budget. Since this money will not be available in future years, we enhanced the revenue reserve funds to buffer any shortfalls that may arise in the future.
The House of Delegates also focused on education. We realized the formula used in the past would not adequately fund our schools in this virtual environment. The House decided to fund K-12 schools regardless of decreased attendance at the previous year’s level. We also increased funding to higher education so we could hold tuitions the same as the year before. We increased funding for COVID testing as well as tuition assistance for Virginia universities. We also felt that a 3.5 percent raise for all state and state-supported local employees would be possible in the second year.
Another major area of investment was the environment. We are making key investments to finish upgrades to the wastewater sector. We also appropriated a large amount to the storm water fund as well as the water quality fund. These investments are necessary for Virginia to meet our 2025 Chesapeake Bay clean water goals.
On a more local level there are several items in the House budget that would be very beneficial to the Shore. The first is an increase in teacher salaries that should help Accomack and Northampton Counties retain teachers that are enticed by the higher salary scale offered in Maryland. Another initiative funded in the House budget is seed money for Children’s Harbor. Children’s Harbor is a nonprofit organization that runs early childhood daycare centers across Hampton Roads. They accept children from six weeks old to twelve years of age with income-based tuition. The House of Delegates recognized the shortage of daycare on the Eastern Shore, and this initiative would help alleviate this problem. I was also pleased that the committee included my amendment for a Community Center in Northampton County.
I would like to reiterate that this is the House budget, and I have not looked at the Senate version. Now, the two budgets will be put into conference where a few senators and delegates will assemble in order to reconcile the budgets and produce the final version. Once that is completed, the final product will still need to return to the House and Senate for approval. As we discovered last year, nothing is finalized until the veto session has ended. Senator Lewis and I will work together to ensure items for the Eastern Shore are not forgotten in the final version.
I encourage you to follow along the legislative process by streaming the committee and floor sessions at https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php. As always, I welcome you to contact me with any questions or concerns at my district office at (757)824-3456 or email me at email@example.com.