This is the fourth week of session and the pace, quite frankly, has been frantic at times! As of today the House has completed 24 of the 46 days of the 2017 session. On Sunday, February 5th, the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals. Two important deadlines will happen next week. Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline that each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their respective chamber. Thursday the House will vote on our version of the budget.
The building has seen hundreds of visitors this week, all lobbying for their particular causes so it has been difficult to navigate throughout the building.
Many pieces of legislation have been heard and either disposed of or passed through to the next step in the legislative process. Of my seven introduced pieces of legislation, only five remain. I posted another Facebook video this week explaining my three bills that pertain to hunting and I hope that you will take a few minutes to look at it. If you have questions about any of my bills, don't hesitate to contact me.
The budget is on everyone's mind now. House and Senate budget leaders held a news conference and announced that state employee compensation is the highlight of their joint priorities. The budget proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff's deputies. I am totally supportive of raises for state employees and reevaluation of state police compensation.
The proposal raises the starting salary of Virginia State Police. New police officers will see a salary increase of almost $6800 to bring their annual salary to $43,000. Additionally, a trooper's annual salary one year after they graduate from the Police Academy will increase to $47,275.
The proposed budget includes funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff's deputies. The agreement includes a compression salary adjustment for employees in local sheriff's offices and regional jails of an additional $80 per year of service for three or more years and $65 per year of service for other personnel.
Employees of district courts are state employees and are scheduled to get the 3% raise. Circuit court clerks are state supported local employees. There will be a raise for them but the level of raise hasn't been finalized.
HELP FOR LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEMS:
In 2016 the adopted budget sent 29% of lottery funds, or $157 million, back to local school divisions. This mechanism gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds mustbe spent. This year we plan to fully restore 40% of unencumbered funds from lottery proceeds back to school divisions. The budget language would permit school divisions to use this lottery money to provide a salary increase or to pay for increased local Virginia Retirement System costs.
For years now, schools in rural areas, particularly in Southside, Southwest, Northern Neck, and Eastern Shore regions, have been struggling, primarily due to the economic downturn and to enrollment losses. As jobs left, so have students and their families. Enrollment has been on a steady decline, even spiking at times with unexpected enrollment losses. Last year, the Coalfield districts in Southwest Virginia lost about 3 percent of their enrollment in the span of about six months.
Since our education funding formulas are based on a per pupil basis, as the students leave the schools, so does our education funding. Fewer students means fewer dollars to fund education. Many of our schools have taken a major financial hit. They have cut programs, consolidated buildings, all in an effort to save money to balance their budgets.
We have been working hard to come up with a way to fix this growing problem and came up with a plan called the "10-10-10" Formula.
This initiative will look at the last 10 years of a school districts population. If there is a 10% or more decline of students, and the school district has a population of less than 10,000 students, we will provide a 15% enrollment loss supplement which will allow them to invest in the future of our children. Every school district I represent should qualify for the additional funding. In the past ten years, Halifax County has seen a decline of 14%, Charlotte County of 18% and Prince Edward County of 24% of their student populations.
I recognize that education can help lift people out of poverty and equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life. This new initiative will give our children a better and brighter future.
The committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals this Sunday, February 5th.
OF LOCAL INTEREST:
Virginia Municipal League members visited the General Assembly this week and I was pleased to meet with Wade Bartlett, Calvin Gray, Jerry Townsend, Odessa Pride and Howard Simpson from Prince Edward County ; Tom Raab and Bob Hughes from the Town of South Boston; Dennis Witt, Jim Halasz, Larry Giordano from Halifax County.
Quote of the Day:
"May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right." Peter Marshall