A proposal from the House of Delegates to create a school building fund is likely being negotiated with the Senate that will have everything to do with the final two-year state budget and how it will solve a problem of multi-billion dollar collapse of school buildings across Virginia.
The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Wednesday amended a House bill to bring it into line with a Senate measure that was originally intended to do the same thing – create a separate fund to provide grants to school divisions. local authorities to repair or replace schools.
But House Bill 563, proposed by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, is now part of the larger budget debate over whether to give grants to localities or offer them subsidized rate loans with discounts for part of the cost for those who have least afford to pay.
Senate Finance Chair Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, has made it clear she wants the bill sent to a conference committee for negotiations with the House alongside the budget debate.
People also read…
“That’s obviously one of the big topics of this session,” Howell said.
The committee approved a substitute for O’Quinn’s bill that would bring it into line with Senate Bill 473, proposed by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, chair of the Commission on Schools Modernization and Construction.
The House bill also includes identical provisions to Senate Bill 238, proposed by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, to direct the state’s Departments of Education and General Services to develop a way to help school divisions assess the condition of each school. building and the cost of its proper maintenance.
By conforming the two bills, the Senate and House will have to resolve disputes in conference committee, just as they will over pending budgets.
The Senate budget includes $500 million in public funds from the then government. Ralph Northam offered in December to help localities fix a problem that would cost up to $25 billion to replace all of Virginia’s school buildings over 50 years old, or more than half of them.
The budget also includes language that McClellan proposed in a separate bill, Senate Bill 471, that would continue to use the Literary Fund for school loans, increasing the amount available and reducing interest charges for borrowers. This bill also appears to be headed to a conference committee for negotiations.
The House budget eliminates that language and takes a different approach to avoid setting a precedent by using state money to pay for what was a local responsibility.
He would establish a loan repayment program with $292 million in public funds and $250 million from the Literary Fund that the state would use to subsidize interest on up to $2 billion in loans, with repayments of up to 30% of the loan principal for the poorest localities. Ultimately, the Chamber relies on proceeds from casino games to replenish the fund.
The budget provision passed the House in a 52-48 vote last week, with Democrats arguing that local governments cannot afford to pay off big loans without additional help, including the option a voluntary 1% sales tax for school construction. , a concept that House Republicans have blocked twice this session.
O’Quinn told the House last week that the loan repayment program may not be ideal, but he said “$2 billion is a lot of money in any context”.
McClellan said in an interview that their bills were similar in that “the fund is the same, [but] the main thing is the subsidy program. »
She is wary of using the Literary Fund, from which the state has regularly siphoned off money to pay for teachers’ retirement, for a loan repayment scheme that would ultimately depend on proceeds from casino games.
“I’m still skeptical that the casino money will be enough,” she said.
Despite the differences, McClellan sees the debate as a long-awaited opportunity for the state to address the problem of crumbling schools.
“I think the fact that we’re even talking and they’re ready to do something is real progress,” she said. “The question is whether they are ready to do enough.”