Money Committees Announce Amendments
Yesterday in an unusual Sunday session, The House and Senate money committees announced their separate proposed amendments to the 2010-2012 biennial budget.
The most notable difference between the House budget amendments and those made by Governor McDonnell, was that the House rejected the Governor’s proposed unpaid furlough days for state workers.
Republican Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk.
Chris Jones: We thought it penalized the employee. They’ve gone at least three or four years without a raise and we’re looking at the prospect of another couple of years without a raise. While there’s a bonus to this program, that’s not a raise to their salary. We just felt strongly, the chairman and the members of the committee, that we shouldn’t if we could get by without doing the furloughs that we would do that, and we sat down and we were able to come up with no furloughs
Jones says that the House took a somewhat different approach to the governor in terms of cuts to education.
Chris Jones: We were not as specific in some of the things that we did. We did take the planning period, that was the one SOQ that we did suspend, which was a pretty big number as far as savings to the state and local government. We gave a lot of latitude and flexibility. So we were different how we approached it which I think is going to allow the local governments to deal with it in a much easier way.
One of the more controversial issues the legislature dealt with yesterday was that of the Local Composite Index or LCI, the mechanism that determines what localities pay and receive in regards to education dollars. Delegate Jones explains some of the complexities.
Chris Jones: The Local Composite Index has been around for about 40 years. It’s based supposedly on the ability to pay. They take assessments of homes and what your value is of real estate and number of children that you have etc. etc. And it’s a very complicated formula that I could not explain to you, but we’ve been using it for the last 40 years and every two years it’s updated. What occurred this year was Northern Virginia had such a drop off in their real estate values that by them dropping as precipitously as they did, that caused everyone else to go up and have an improvement in the local composite index which meant they lost money. 97 jurisdictions lost money. Both of mine did. But Northern Virginia picked up about 125 or 135 million. So its kind of, some would say, an arcane formula, it’s been around for a long time and it needs to be updated. But the one thing I’ve learned is that when you start messing with formula’s people get really anxious.
The House budget amendments would reimburse eighty percent of any money that localities would lose as a result of unfreezing the LCI for the first year of the budget.
The Senate also took a different approach from the Governor and from the House, in regards to public education.
Democratic Senator Mary Margret Whipple of Arlington.
Mary Margret Whipple: We were able to restore to those localities that would have lost money from unfreezing the local composite index. We were able to restore their funding fully for the next two years and that’s a major, major difference. Moneywise, he was suggesting reductions of 731 million dollars in addition to those in the introduced budget. Our reduction is only 133 million. So that’s a very sizeable difference.
In regards to furlough days the Senate met the Governor and the House in the middle.
Mary Margret Whipple: We did take three furlough days each over the next two years, the Governor had recommended five and it is my understanding that the House rejected that approach. But we felt that helped saved state jobs and that was worthwhile because that would be a very small reduction in any employee’s salary but it would save quite a few jobs.
On Thursday the House and Senate will vote on their respective budgets.
Delegate Jones described the process of reconciling the two.
Chris Jones: We’ll summarily reject each other’s bill and then my Speaker will assign conferees and then the Senate will have their conferees assigned by President Pro Tem and then we’ll start meeting, we’ll meet daily, probably multiple times a day, through the weekends and then by the 13th of March, hopefully by the 10th of March we’ll have something the 11th of March and have it so the members can look at it and then vote on the 13th on Saturday and get out of here on time.
Senator Whipple agreed with Delegate Jones.
Mary Margret Whipple: I believe that the differences are not so great that we will not be able to reach agreement in time to adjourn on time.
Legislators have just three weeks until their scheduled adjournment on March 13th.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.