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Commonwealth's Counties

General Assembly adopts budget and adjourns sine die

After a 46-day General Assembly Session, the House of Delegates and Senate adjourned on Saturday, February 25, after adopting amendments to the state budget for 2016-2018. The $107 billion budget restores pay raises to public employees, protects education funding and invests in mental health services.

The House voted 96-1 and the Senate 40-0 to adopt the revised two-year plan.

The budget includes a 3 percent salary adjustment for state employees effective July 10 and a 2 percent salary increase for state-supported local employees effective August 1.

Education was a top priority of the budget committees. The state will send $34 million more to localities on a per-pupil basis through the lottery. School divisions will have the flexibility to spend these funds as they choose. The conference report also provides the state’s share of a two percent salary increase for teachers, effective February 15, 2018, and $7.3 million for small school divisions that have experienced a decline in Average Daily Membership of five percent or more between 2011 and 2016.

In mental health, the revised budget includes $5 million to provide permanent supportive housing for individuals with serious mental illness, a priority of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century (often referred to as the Deeds Commission). The conference report extends the Deeds Commission by two years, and directs several specific studies of aspects of the mental health system, such as increasing the use of telemedicine for mental health services.  The budget provides $6.2 million for same-day access to mental health services at Community Services Boards, and expands eligibility for the existing Governor’s Access Plan, which provides coverage for individuals with mental illness through Medicaid.

The budget conference report also includes a 2.5 percent increase in the TANF benefit, and provides $90,000 GF and $2.5 million in federal TANF funds to reorganize locality groupings, which would better reflect growth in cost of living in certain localities.

The conference report directs the creation of a joint subcommittee to examine local fiscal stress, including local responsibility for service delivery and disparity between taxing authorities of cities and counties. The conference report also directs the creation of a workgroup to develop an early warning system for localities in financial distress and outlines a process for state intervention in certain cases.

The General Assembly returns for the reconvened session on April 5 to consider gubernatorial vetoes and amendments to legislation.

VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE

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