Localities mull state budget jam
Throughout the stalemate at the General Assembly over the state budget, the House and Senate have been steadfast in their positions on expanding Medicaid in Virginia.
The Senate, controlled by Democrats by virtue of a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, says expansion of Medicaid coverage to the poor must be part of any spending plan.
The House, meanwhile, is controlled by Republicans and says that for there to be a budget agreement, the issue of Medicaid expansion must be separated from the state budget.
The posturing has come with the warning that the standoff could lead to no budget by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. Some have warned of a state government shutdown.
But what does that mean locally? Here’s a look at what officials from Fredericksburg-area localities have to say:
If the state legislature doesn’t approve a budget, the county school division doesn’t have to finalize its budget, said Lance Wolff, assistant superintendent for financial services for Stafford County Public Schools.
The deadline for a county budget is May 1—or 30 days from when the county learns how much money it can expect to get from the state.
Wolff hopes the state will adopt a budget sooner rather than later, so the school division can have its budget finalized.
On the county government side, officials are analyzing the situation on a day-to-day basis, said Cathy Vollbrecht, a county spokeswoman.
“If necessary, we’ll recommend adopting a budget with our conservative best guess of a likely outcome,” Vollbrecht said.
Spotsylvania government spokeswoman Kathy Smith said she doesn’t anticipate a disruption of county services if the legislature fails to pass a budget by July 1.
Under a worst-case scenario, she said, the county would have to tap into reserves, which total $36.7 million.
“The county has a really healthy general fund balance,” Smith said.
Spotsylvania Schools Superintendent Scott Baker said the division is navigating the state budget along with the uncertainty of what the county Board of Supervisors will contribute.
“We are aware of what is being proposed and hope they will be expeditious,” he said.
The division expects the fiscal 2015 budget contribution from the state to be $126.1 million, $5 million more than the fiscal 2014 state funds.
The higher total is projected because the number of students attending school in Spotsylvania is increasing.
Baker said the current version of the school’s budget takes into account that projected amount of state funds, and not a penny more. While additional funds would be appreciated, Baker isn’t assuming the division will receive more money.
“We are just focusing on what we can control,” he said.
Spotsylvania Schools Chief Financial Officer LaShahn Gaines said a state government shutdown should not immediately affect daily operations since the division has funds to operate through 2014.
Fredericksburg City Manager Bev Cameron said a stalemate on the state budget wouldn’t have a major impact on city operations since state revenues make up about 10 percent of that budget.
Cameron’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal anticipates $8.7 million in state revenue as part of an operating budget of $84.4 million.
He said the budget delay could have a greater impact on the school division since it needs to resolve teacher contracts.
City school officials could not be reached for comment on Friday. But the school division has been anticipating $2.2 million more from the state for the 2014–15 school year as a result of a change to the local composite index and increased average daily enrollment in city schools.
Superintendent David Melton has proposed giving variable pay raises to city school employees next year to keep them competitive with Stafford and Spotsylvania. The cost of that would be $1.5 million.
He also plans to add 10 teaching positions at a cost of $565,000.
It was unclear on Friday whether those would be affected if a state budget isn’t finalized by July 1.
Caroline Administrator Charles M. Culley Jr. said the county supervisors haven’t discussed a backup plan yet, in the event that the stalemate continues.
“We’ll be working on that once we can get our budget adopted,” he said.
Board Chairman Floyd Thomas said, “It’s a little early to implement a plan but we are in fact trying to investigate what plan B would be since most of our money comes from the state and the federal government,” he said.
Schools Superintendent Greg Killough said that not having a state budget would have a “tremendous impact” on the ability of the school system to contract with teachers. The contracts begin July 1, but are usually sent out in late May or early June.
It would also affect supplies the school system would be able to get over the summer.
—Staff reporters Jeff Branscome, Pamela Gould, Jessica Koers, Amy Flowers Umble, Lindley Estes and Robyn Sidersky contributed to this story.