Virginia

Virginia state employees to get pay raises in new budget

Virginia state employees will be getting raises, some of them quite hefty, under a budget plan headed to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's desk.
   
The General Assembly on Friday passed the state spending plan that includes a 3 percent across-the-board raises for state employees and the state's share of a 2 percent raises for teachers without raising taxes.
   
Some state workers will get even larger raises, including law enforcement officers and front-line mental health workers. Each state trooper is set to get a nearly $6,800-a-year raise in an attempt to address high turnover and morale problems.
   
Lawmakers entered the session trying to cope with lower-than-expected tax revenues and said they were making state employee pay and mental health care funding top priorities.
   
D.J. Smith, president of the Virginia State Police Association, said the proposed raise will only be the second one in nine years and will help troopers who have been struggling financially. He said many have had to look elsewhere for higher pay, and he knows of at least six troopers who have recently taken similar jobs in Texas.
   
"It's going to be huge," Smith said of the raise.
   
Some earlier budget proposals increased school spending but did not specify that the money should be raised for teacher raises, prompting concerns from McAuliffe and teacher groups.
   
Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston said the 2 percent state share increase is a positive first step, but there's still a lot of ground Virginia needs to make up in order to be more competitive with neighboring states. He said chronic low pay is leading to a critical teacher shortage.
   
"Until we address the salary issue, we're going to be struggling," Livingston said.
   
The budget also directed spending for various mental health programs, including a permanent housing initiative. Mental health care has been a key issue in Virginia, thanks in part to the 2015 death of a mentally ill inmate who was jailed for stealing $5 worth of junk food.
   
The Republican-controlled General Assembly balked at McAuliffe's suggestion that they cut $5 million from a planned celebration in 2019 of the 400th anniversary of the House of Burgesses' founding in Jamestown, as well as other early events in the colony. McAuliffe wanted to use the $5 million to increase further mental health spending, something he still may be able to do thanks to better revenue figures.
   
In other budget action, the General Assembly's budget directs the Attorney General Mark Herring's office to details about raises he's given to his staff. The move comes after The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Herring was able to give large raises to staff attorneys with the indirect help of asset forfeiture funds.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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