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Lawmakers push pay raises for Viginia state workers

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia House and Senate finance committees on Sunday recommended widespread pay raises for public employees and more money for the state's rainy day fund as they wrestled with Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposed budget amendments.

McDonnell has called for $58.5 million to gives teachers a 2 percent pay increase to be matched by local governments. But the Senate finance and House appropriations committees both moved to extend the raise to school support staff such as custodians and information technology workers.

The Senate also wants a 1 percent raise for all state employees and more consistent pay increases for public workers now that Virginia is emerging from recession.

House Republicans, however, aren't ready to put the economic downturn in the rearview mirror and suggested a $95 million deposit into the state's rainy day fund, $45 million more than McDonnell sought.

"On the heels of the news that our national economy shrunk in the last quarter of 2012, it's important that we continue to exercise fiscal discipline," said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate committees are also split on how to improve school safety in the wake of December's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. On Thursday, McDonnell's school safety task force unveiled more than a dozen recommendations, but the Senate said it was too soon to take action on those suggestions.

The House, meanwhile, proposed $1.7 million to put more police officers in schools and $30 million in grants over the next five years to pay for security improvements at Virginia schools.

The General Assembly passed McDonnell's two-year, $85 billion budget last year. The governor and lawmakers are now tinkering with it after new revenue reports showed $103 million more coming into state coffers next year.

Each chamber of the General Assembly has until Thursday to pass a budget bill.

That includes deciding if the state should expand Medicaid under President Obama's health care reforms. In the first few years of the Affordable Care Act the feds will pick up states' tabs to bring more services to low-income and disabled residents. Eventually, states must pay 10 percent of the costs.

Virginia positioned itself last year to expand the program but the Supreme Court has since made it optional. The House committee gave the administration permission to expand if certain reforms are met; the Senate budget bill didn't include Medicaid expansion.

Democrats warned that will leave 300,000 Virginians without proper health care.

"For years we've known we have one of the most miserly programs in the country. We couldn't improve it much because we didn't have the money," said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston. "Now that money is being offered us, and we shouldn't spurn it."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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