By Delegate Rob Bloxom
The Virginia General Assembly finished its work of the special session this past week. We were in session for over sixty days and although we officially are still in session, our work is complete. The two-year budget was accepted and sent to the Governor for his approval. We made adjustments for reduced revenues and included the Federal Cares Act money into our spending plan for the next two years.
Several highlights of this budget focus on education. There will be increased funding from the general fund to replace sales tax shortfalls which go directly to fund K-12 public schools. We also allowed the local school division flexibility to move funds designated to certain areas to other areas of need. For example, textbook funds may now be used to reopen schools or to address any additional costs associated with virtual instruction or technology needs. We also budgeted Federal Cares Act money to help cover distance learning expenses and public health measures for the schools. Additionally, the legislature directed the Governor to increase the salary for teachers if we hit projected revenues.
The General Assembly also provided $94 million in the budget for higher education. This includes funds to cover the shortfall in revenue that colleges and universities would have received for room and board. We also restored the $15.4 million to Norfolk State University and Virginia State University for the first year funding that had been frozen in the spring when the pandemic hit.
The budget restores $94.7 million from the general fund for behavioral health services with a continuation of STEP-VA toward full implementation. There is also funding for psychiatric hospitals and supportive community services for those dealing with mental health crises. The Marcus Alert system was also funded in the budget to begin developing a system that could perhaps be a model for crisis teams when responding to an emergency call so that a mental health crisis may be deescalated before the situation turns violent.
The General Assembly included contingent spending for employee raises and bonuses. If revenue projections are met, state employees will receive a $1500 bonus and state supported local employees will receive a 1.5% bonus. Teachers will receive a salary increase in 2021 if additional revenues are available. Law enforcement personnel will receive a $500.00 bonus.
I submitted a budget amendment to obtain funding for a new hangar at the Melfa Airport. I am happy to announce that the money has been appropriated, and this project will be able to come to fruition. This long-fought battle was won with the help of Senator Lewis who helped me persuade the senator conferees that this was a worthwhile project. This should help attract customers from Salisbury to Melfa to be close to Wallops Island when testing or housing aircrafts or drones.
I encourage you to take a look at the bills that have passed the House of Delegates during this special session at https://lis.virginia.gov/. 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 protected].