Senator: Lawmakers do ‘pretty decent job’ on budget

Published 8:40 am Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RICHMOND—After much deliberation, the General Assembly over the weekend passed a two-year $82 billion budget that cuts spending on education, health care and public safety to bridge a $4 billion shortfall.

“I think, under the circumstances, we did a pretty decent job,” said Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk. “It was a tough budget. The toughest one I’ve seen in 19 years.”

The Senate passed the budget 34-6, while the House passed it 73-23. Mediators worked through Saturday night to reach compromises for Sunday’s votes. The assembly extended its session by one day to wrap up the 2010-12 budget.

The final budget makes a $253 million cut in K-12 education over the next two years, but it rejects $400 million in additional cuts originally desired by the House of Delegates. Advocates for teachers and other school staff say the cuts will result in the loss of thousands of jobs.

The Local Composite Index update wasn’t as disastrous as some school divisions expected. It was approved with a full “hold-harmless” provision for the first year of the biennium, preserving funding for divisions that were set to lose money under the updated index, and a 50 percent hold-harmless provision for the second year.

Project Discovery, a dropout prevention program, public broadcasting grants and Project Graduation from Central to Direct Aid all will receive less money, collectively saving the commonwealth about $1 million.

The budget also made reductions to health and human resources by $360 million, but legislators hope federal stimulus money will offset those cuts.

“I don’t think there any question that it’s going to put a strain on public education at the local level and health care, particularly Medicaid,” said Delegate Bill Barlow, D-Smithfield. However, he said, “it appears pretty likely” the state will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to help offset Medicaid cuts.

In the same way, the budget cuts funding for free clinics and community health centers and reduces Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals, nursing homes and health care professionals by 7 percent – unless federal monies are available. State officials also are banking on federal funds to provide Medicaid waivers for 250 more intellectually disabled children so they can receive services at home.