With a budget surplus four years in a row, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell proposed a new raise for teachers and major infrastructure spending Monday, advising the state to use its financial strength to prepare for the looming "fiscal cliff."
"We face disproportionate risks from federal downsizing, which as we all know is necessary and inevitable," said McDonnell, referring to thousands of Virginia jobs tied to national defense and the federal government. "Thus, flexibility… and increasing reserves are fiscally responsible actions for the foreseeable future."
To protect against economic shock if the nation goes over the fiscal cliff, Gov. McDonnell proposed adding $128 million to the state's rainy day fund. Extensive federal spending cuts are set to take effect Jan. 1, if fiscal cliff negotiations in Congress fail. Under the governor's plan, Virginia's rainy day fund would reach $740 million.
Raises for Virginia teachers also took center stage during McDonnell's presentation before members of the General Assembly. The proposed allotment of $59 million would amount to a two percent raise, the first pay hike in four years for educators in the Commonwealth.
The proposed raise for teachers is coupled with the passage of controversial education reform legislation, a bill that would make it easier for school districts to fire under performing teachers.
The governor also called for $48 million to be shifted from the state's general fund to infrastructure projects. Senate democrats criticized the move, saying money from the general fund should be left alone.
"We could not pay teachers more in the future if that money is removed," said Senator Janet Hopewell (D) Fairfax in an interview Monday. "It would mean our public safety would be stretched, and Virginia human services would remain in the bottom half of the states."
McDonnell's proposed budget amendments call for $2.1 million to give all assistant Commonwealth's attorneys a raise of $3,300 in fiscal year 2014. Democrats also criticized the governor's lack of funding to expand Medicaid. McDonnell told reporters in a news conference following Monday's presentation now is not the time for Medicaid expansion without serious reform.
"Virginia has grown by 1,600 percent in Medicaid spending over the past 30 years," McDonnell said. "You have to ask that question, ‘what can we afford going forward?'"
Overall, the budget spends about $211 million more than it cuts. The proposals are set for debate beginning Jan. 9 when the General Assembly reconvenes.
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