Republicans propose change that would gut public education, drive up real estate taxes


Last Thursday, the House and Senate each went through the initial round of votes on the state’s $78-billion biennial budget.  A few days earlier, the Appropriations Committee released the House version of the budget, so I immersed myself in briefings and work groups to understand the details and differences between what the House, the Senate, and the Governor have placed before us.  The current $2-billion revenue shortfall makes this an especially challenging year to come up with a budget that balances important competing needs in areas like education, health care, public safety, transportation, and the environment.

After dozens of valiant but unsuccessful attempts by House Democrats to improve the budget written by the House Republican majority, I ultimately voted against it.  While I could live with the proposed K through 12 education funding for this biennium, the House budget contains language that would result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of state money from public education in the future.  Under the House Republican plan to restructure funding for the Standards of Quality the mechanism by which we fund public education in Virginia the state would suddenly ignore the actual cost to localities of hiring enough teachers and staff to provide a quality education for our children.  Communities that want to maintain current staffing and quality levels would be forced to come up with the difference on their own, driving real estate taxes through the roof. 

Aside from this critical issue, there are many aspects of the proposed House budget that I do support.  For example, it makes a significant investment in services for the intellectually disabled and takes some reasonable steps to reign in growing college tuition.  In moving forward, the good news is that many elements of the House, Senate, and Governor’s budgets are not all that far apart.  For example, there is broad bipartisan agreement that we need a serious investment mental health services, and the House budget actually includes a modest expansion of pre-kindergarten, despite the House Republican majority initially balking on this issue.  Where Governor Kaine proposes reducing aide to local governments in a way that would give them a bit more discretion, House Republicans prefer that the General Assembly determine which local programs should be cut.  The proposed House budget would use less of the state’s Revenue Stabilization Fund (sometimes called the “rainy day fund”) and instead would rely on more bond debt than the budgets proposed by the Governor and the Senate.  None of these are intractable differences.

The other good news is that the House and Senate budget conferees have already begun serious negotiations to reconcile the competing proposals — something that did not begin until much later in the process last time around.  This suggests that the General Assembly might complete the budget on time for the first time in many years.  I am hopeful that parents, teachers, property owners, and local officials will make their voices heard on the education funding issue, and that the budget conferees will negotiate a final budget that I can support.  However, I will not vote for a policy change that would gut public education and turn it into an unfunded mandate that will drive up real estate taxes.

As always, it is an honor to represent you, and I hope you will contact me at 703-549-3203 or if I can ever be of service.