House budget proposal scraps some of Northam’s ideas, makes big investments in education

    House of Delegates Appropriations Chairman Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

    Republican leaders of the House Appropriations committee left most of Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget proposals out of their own budget that invests heavily in education.

    Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, committee chairman, made clear Northam would not get all of the $2.1 billion of budget amendments he rolled out in the days before the General Assembly convened.

    “(Our) approach required removing all of the new spending items from the governor’s introduced budget,” Jones said. “Starting over is never easy but in this case necessary.”

    The governor’s proposal spent money the state anticipates getting back as part of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. A portion of it would come from money not refunded to taxpayers who would opt to take the new higher federal deduction and therefore can’t itemize their state taxes.

    Republicans called that a tax increase and built the budget under the assumption that money would eventually be refunded to taxpayers.

    “We ensure that these monies will not expand our budget beyond its normal growth pattern, but more importantly guarantees these dollars will be available to go back to the affected taxpayers,” Jones said before budget discussions Sunday. “This is not a windfall as some have described it, but these are the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars and not the state’s.”

    Jones made sure to point out the cuts in the newest budget proposal weren’t personal.

    “We’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans, we have a bipartisan document before us,” he said. “It reflects the collective wisdom of the House and the collective wisdom of this committee.”

    But lawmakers did work in some of Northam’s priorities, notably a 2 percent teacher pay raise to complement last year’s 3 percent raise.

    They also made some alterations to some of other Northam’s budget highlights, like $93 million for water quality improvements (Northam wanted $90 million to spread out between several years) and $20 million for broadband expansion instead of Northam’s $50 million broadband proposal.

    In the place of some of Northam’s other proposals, like affordable housing and eviction diversion, Republicans in the House proposed almost $550 million for education.

    Northam’s education budget proposals totaled about $100 million.

    Del. Steve Landes, R-Verona, said the House budget was a “robust” investment in public education and Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said a growing economy supported a budget that allows investment in top priorities like college affordability and public education.

    The budget includes $5.2 million for tuition assistance grants, which are given to college students through financial aid offices. Northam proposed the same funding for the program.

    House leaders also bookmarked $54 million for general university funding to encourage colleges to keep tuition the same; though Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, pointed out that’s a decision ultimately made by boards of visitors.

    The proposed House budget also put money behind some of the recommendations that came out of Cox’s House Select Committee on School Safety, like $3 million to hire more school resource officers.

    Senate Republicans presented some of the same education spending items as the House. Their budget proposal included $188.5 million for school safety measures, teacher pay raises, school construction and college financial aid.

    The bulk of the Senate’s budget proposal is focused on tax relief, said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City. The Senate’s tax plan includes giving taxpayers set cash rebates and raising the standard deduction.

     

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    Mechelle Hankerson
    Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach.