Sometimes persistence pays off!
The budgets proposed by the House and Senate Republicans were unfair to my constituents and region, so I voted against them. Those initial budgets did not include funding for Phase 2 of Rail to Dulles, shortchanged Northern Virginia schools, and cut funding for programs that assist low income working families with childcare and eldercare.
After we Senate Democrats voted against both the House and Senate versions, the General Assembly left Richmond without a budget.
However, as one of a handful of budget negotiators, I never really "left."
Instead, we seven Senate budget negotiators met for several days to see if we could improve on the previous version of the Senate budget. Fortunately, Sen. Walter Stosch, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was sincere in his desire to meet as many of our priorities as possible. During an intense three days of striving to find common ground, we developed a new, much improved, bi-partisan Senate budget.
Here are some of the highlights of the new Senate budget:
Phase 2 of Rail to Dulles will receive $300 million in addition to the $150 million previously promised by the state. I worked very hard along with Sen. Mark Herring to secure these new funds. Given that Dulles rail is of local, regional, and statewide importance, I was determined that the state be a responsible partner.
The McDonnell administration was surprisingly resistant to increasing state support. Nonetheless, the additional funding in our budget should be an inducement for the federal government to also contribute to Phase 2. My goal is to keep tolls as low as possible.
Public education will receive an additional $74.4 million over the Senate's previous version of the budget. Of that, $18.5 million will go directly to Northern Virginia to assist us with the cost of competing for personnel. The remainder will be designated to the various school divisions through the usual formula for inflation and Pre-Kindergarten (Fairfax County schools will receive an additional $4.1 million; Arlington schools an additional $335,000). We restored funding cut in the Governor's budget for numerous programs that aid lower income working families.
Included are childcare for at-risk children, payments to personal care assistants, teen pregnancy prevention programs, and employment support services for the disabled. In addition, we set aside $10 million for a revolving trust fund for housing assistance.
Our job is not done!
The next step is to negotiate with the House of Delegates to include these and other priorities in the final budget. We must then convince the Governor to sign that budget. However, I am convinced that the budget we created over the past two weeks is a vast improvement for the people of Northern Virginia and I will be working hard to protect these priorities during budget conference.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd)