Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates.
I want to share with you an update on the fifth week of legislative session this year, which is dominated by the budget.
The budget is crafted by the Governor and handed down as a bill in each the House and Senate. In the House, the House Appropriations Committee has various subcommittees that each have a certain purview. I sit on the Commerce, Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Technology Subcommittee as well as the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee.
Each Subcommittee is given a certain budget to be able to spend on our priorities for the Commonwealth. Each Subcommittee introduces amendments to the Governor's budget to make changes to the original bill introduced.
Each amendment has the opportunity to be discussed on the House Floor. Yesterday, we spent several hours on the Floor discussing the priorities for Virginia. Next, I'll highlight what I think are the most important parts of this year's House version of the budget.
My Budget Grade: A
I give the 2018 House budget an A. It includes many priorities for health care, education, and transportation.
The House version of the 2018-2019 budget includes Medicaid Expansion, which will help give more than 350,000 Virginians access to affordable health care. There is a work requirement involved that will affect a small percentage of the people who seek to take part in the Medicaid program.
This is an excellent addition to the budget, freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars that we can spend on other priorities like education and transportation.
However, the Senate budget does not include Medicaid Expansion. There is still an uphill battle to pass Expansion for all Virginians, but I'm optimistic that we will get the help so many in the Commonwealth need to stay healthy.
The House budget increases K-12 funding by nearly $92 million dollars and expanded the percentage of lottery funds that go towards education initiatives. In addition, there are increased funds for Kindergarten readiness.
It's important to me that Virginia's children have access to a world-class public education. I think these amendments to the Governor's budget help us greatly to continue that endeavor.
There is a provision in the House budget that looks to study the algorithm by which tolls on I-66 are calculated. Hopefully, the study will find that the exorbitant tolls can be reduced through speed limit algorithm changes that can help reduce congestion and tolls.
Tolls in Northern Virginia are simply too high, and our commutes are already too long. I'll always do everything I can to make sure we can spend more time with our families and less time on the road.
Sheriff Pay Raises
Loudoun and Prince William Counties, as the largest growing in the Commonwealth, will benefit greatly from a $1,000 pay raise for all law enforcement sheriffs.
This increase will help us recruit and retain quality deputies and maintain the high level of safety that we have come to expect in our neighborhoods.
You may not know that one of the most important pieces of legislation that I carry each year is on behalf of the correctional officers, who are the unsung heroes of our public safety system here in the Commonwealth. Correctional officers work in our jails and prisons, sometimes in terrible conditions and for very long hours, to make sure that we stay safe from the most dangerous of our society.
Due to the low pay and difficult work conditions last year the Commonwealth spent $37 million on recruiting, training and overtime due to the high turnover rate. Simply stated, we are spending a large amount of money to do the wrong thing. In the House budget, $20 million was appropriated for targeted raises for correctional officers. I couldn't be more thrilled with this progress, and will continue fighting to make sure they are treated fairly.
In conclusion, in my opinion, this budget deserves an A because of the important progress it makes for health care, education, and transportation for Virginia.
If you haven't gotten a chance yet to participate in my Constituent Survey for this session, please do so by following the link below:
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you, and feel free to reach out to my office anytime.
Delegate John J. Bell
Member, 87th District
Virginia House of Delegates