In anticipation of a slight uptick in state revenue over the next two fiscal years, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is proposing increased spending on education and mental health.
McDonnell presented his final biennial budget plan to three fiscal committees of the Virginia General Assembly on Monday. Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) will take office Jan. 11 and will have the opportunity to submit amendments to the state budget.
State forecasters are projecting about 4 percent growth over fiscal 2015 and 2016. The total anticipated revenue is about $37.7 billion over two years.
However, McDonnell said, the uncertainty of federal spending continues to cast a pall on Virginia’s future economic growth.
“Virginia is actually expected to grow slower than the nation as a whole,” he said, due to the state’s reliance on federal jobs and spending.
While McDonnell is making a number of targeted investments, his speech emphasized the lack of growth in state spending over the course of his term, in part forced by the economic downturn and in part guided by his desire to shrink state government.
McDonnell consolidated state agencies, boards and commissions and reduced the state workforce by about 2,000 employees over the last four years.
The governor is proposing a $500 million increase in funding for K-12 education statewide to help local school districts accommodate increased enrollment and growing retirement costs.
He also proposed more than $180 million in additional funding for Virginia’s colleges and universities, most of which will be allocated to the institutions through a new funding formula. McDonnell said the new formula is based on enrollment growth, as well as incentive payments, research and other criteria.
Following several high-profile incidents of violence linked to mental illness in Virginia and around the country, McDonnell said the state should invest more in mental health services. He is also proposing two legislative changes.
“I think that there is a clear need for additional community and crisis mental health resources and supports,” he said.
His budget proposal includes about $38 million in additional funding in this area, including $7.5 specifically for teens and young adults transitioning out of high school.
McDonnell said he will also be asking someone to introduce legislation to add two hours to the amount of time someone can be held on an emergency custody order before they must be transferred to an institution or released. He is also asking for legislation to increase temporary detention orders from 48 hours to 72 hours.
Continuing to meet the requirements of the state’s settlement with the Department of Justice, McDonnell also proposes that the state invest more in services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The state has long had a waiting list to qualify for so-called “Medicaid waivers,” which fund a range of services and care that individuals need.
He is proposing that the state fund 750 additional waiver slots in the next biennium, 175 of which would be designated for current residents of the state’s training centers.
The training centers are residential facilities for people with disabilities. The state is closing all but one as part of the settlement with the Department of Justice.
The Northern Virginia Training Center is slated to be one of the first to close, in 2015. In addition to the waiver slots, McDonnell is proposing that some “bridge funding” be set aside to help these individuals with the transition to community-based care.
The Virginia General Assembly session begins Jan. 8.