RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe would boost financial aid for college students and study a new way of handling campus sexual assaults under a budget plan unveiled Wednesday.
McAuliffe (D), who has been rolling out portions of the two-year, $100 billion state spending plan that he will propose in full Thursday, gave a preview of his higher education proposal at a Richmond area community college.
He called for an extra $48 million in financial aid for undergraduates. He also proposed spending $100,000 to study whether the state should take campus sexual assault investigations out of the hands of college officials. The money would be used to fund a study on establishing an independent center to investigate and adjudicate criminal sexual assaults.
McAuliffe has focused much of his governorship on expanding and diversifying Virginia’s defense-heavy economy. He often speaks of a shortage of skilled workers in certain fields, such as cybersecurity and engineering. He billed his higher education plan as a way to prepare students for what he calls the “new Virginia economy.”
“The biennial budget I will introduce this week will make significant investments in Virginia’s higher education system and steer those institutions toward preparing students to lead in the 21st-century economy,” he told an audience at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
Republicans, who control the Virginia Senate and House, reacted coolly to McAuliffe’s higher education plan — as they have to all of his other budget proposals he has revealed so far. They said they anticipate that the governor’s budget plan will be premised on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, with McAuliffe relying on projected savings from expansion to bankroll new spending and a corporate tax cut.
Republican legislative leaders are fiercely opposed to Medicaid expansion, which would provide health care to 400,000 uninsured Virginians but also increase the state’s dependence on federal spending.
“The Governor has certainly raised expectations, but I would caution against putting too much stock in these announcements,” Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a written statement. “I fully expect a number of his proposed initiatives will be predicated on assumptions related to Medicaid expansion, to which the General Assembly clearly remains opposed. I’ve discouraged the Governor from doing this because we are most productive when we set that issue aside and focus on the budget alone.”
McAuliffe’s proposal got a better reception from Virginia21, a nonpartisan group that advocates for issues important to young voters.
“Virginia21 commends the Governor for taking this positive step towards a future where an affordable, high-quality education after high school is a reality for all Virginians,” Jared Calfee, the group’s executive director, said in a written statement. “We look forward to working with the leadership in the General Assembly to ensure that this critical funding is preserved in the final budget.”
McAuliffe has not explicitly said that his budget, which will hit the $100 billion mark for the first time in state history, will call for Medicaid expansion. While speaking to reporters after his announcement, the governor was asked what he would have to cut from his budget plan if Medicaid is not expanded.
“The good news is, we have a lot money to spend,” McAuliffe said, noting rising tax receipts and declining unemployment rate. “It’s a conservative budget. However, we are in good shape.”
McAuliffe, who was accompanied by Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones and Secretary of Education Anne Holton, also announced several other initiatives, including:
● $50 million in incentives for colleges to educate and graduate more in-state and underrepresented students.
● $2 million to increase tuition assistance grants to undergraduate students attending independent colleges.
● $8 million to establish an online degree completion program for adult and other non-traditional students.
● $24.6 million for community college credentialing programs to increase the number of students receiving certifications in high-demand fields.
● $25.7 million to provide higher education faculty and staff the same 2 percent raise the governor has proposed for other state employees.
● $40 million for one-time incentive packages to help retain high-performing researchers and to establish “centers of excellence” where researchers can collaborate.