McDonnell releases budget

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Gov. Bob McDonnell released a $96 billion biennial budget Monday that adds more money into higher education, K-12 education and mental health while increasing the state’s rainy day fund.

McDonnell, whose budget is $10 billion larger than his previous biennial budget, included an additional $183.1 million in higher education funding and $38.3 million in new money for mental health issues. It also provides an additional $582.6 million for K-12 and pre-K education.

McDonnell’s budget increases the state’s rainy day fund by $319 million, meaning the fund will reach $1 billion by 2016. The fund had reached as low as $295 million in the wake of the Great Recession.

McDonnell also left an unappropriated balance of $50.9 million to provide Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe with some flexibility on budget expenditures. McDonnell pointed out this is the largest unappropriated balance left for an incoming governor since 1991.

His budget also includes smaller investments, such as $6.5 million for study requirements for dredging of the Norfolk harbor and deepening of the Elizabeth River channel. This project would benefit the Port of Virginia, which is trying to remain competitive as the world’s ships get larger and larger.

It also provides $1.5 million for a grant fund to encourage private-sector companies to locate among transportation corridors leading to the port.

The budget supports Virginia’s oyster industry, providing $2 million in each year of the budget for oyster restoration efforts. In 2012, Virginia’s saw its largest oyster harvest since 1987.

Other budget highlights include:

-$261 million in targeted savings

-Performance bonus of 3 percent for state employees before Christmas 2014 contingent on employee performance and savings generated at the end of the fiscal year

-$16.2 million to cover foster care and adoption payments.

-$196.7 million to fund debt service on projects already approved by the General Assembly

-$55.3 million for public safety, including $22.2 million for sheriffs, commonwealth’s attorneys and Circuit Court clerk deputies to fund new hires, reduce overcrowding in jails, fund pay increases

-$2.8 million in new funding to help prisoners rejoin society

-$31 million from the Fiscal Year 2013 budget surplus to the Water Quality Improvement Fund

-$7.2 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program

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