Following a sweeping round of cuts lowering Virginia's $2.4 billion budget gap, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced his final plans to balance the state budget Wednesday, coupling cuts with measures to help teachers retire and take on unlicensed daycares.
In a response to headlines of fatal fires at unlicensed daycare facilities in Chesterfield and Lynchburg, McAuliffe proposed $2.7 million to hire 28 new positions, charged with inspecting safety compliance and enforcing regulations.
The governor's office revealed 1,920 unlicensed home daycares across Virginia would have to be licensed if new legislation is approved.
The home facilities all receive state subsidies, and would no longer be able to avoid license requirements by filing religious exemptions.
"When a parent drops off their child, any time you leave a child with someone else, you want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe," McAuliffe told reporters Wednesday.
The governor also addressed the daunting task of cutting more than $880 million from Virginia's budget, a spending plan that covers now through June 30, 2016.
McAuliffe's main reductions first announced this fall largely impact higher education, state agencies and aid to local governments. In total, the governor identified nearly $1 billion in savings and state aid that could be paid back to the Commonwealth, closing the budget gap.
"It may be hard to believe, but the situation could be much worse," McAuliffe said. "Three of our chief budget drivers are down: debt payments, the growth in public school enrollment, and Medicaid expenditures."
McAuliffe proposed state agencies repay the highest figure, returning $209 million in funding. Public colleges and universities repay $90 million and local governments cede $60 million back to the state.
Under the new changes, public colleges and universities would also be allowed to hike tuition costs, in order to cover budget reductions.
McAuliffe said more than $590 million would be saved through adjusting spending for nearly two-dozen smaller state resources, from lottery proceeds to health care funds.
The governor stressed there would be no reductions to public K-12 education, and included a $150 million investment to help local districts reduce teacher retirement burdens.
According to state officials, the new revenue stream for teacher retirement payments comes from previously unclaimed property five years after death. The assets range from the usual stocks and bonds, to the more unusual jewels, and even a suit of armor.
Millions are allocated for new school construction, as well as First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe's new initiative to implement free breakfast programs in schools across Virginia.
The budget plan also sets new minimum salaries for sheriff deputies, starting at $31,009 for grade 7 deputies and $32,000 for grade 8 deputies.
Republicans said they will closely examine the governor's proposals, but would not entertain any measure involving Medicaid expansion.
"We are committed to protecting the Commonwealth’s status as one of the nation’s best managed states," read a statement from the House Republican Leaders.
"The House of Delegates has consistently taken a conservative and prudent approach to the state’s balance sheet. This year will be no different."
The Republican controlled General Assembly must now vote on the plan, after the legislature returns to session beginning Jan. 14.