US News and World Report / AP – Virginia lawmakers want the General Assembly's 400th birthday in 2019 to be a celebration worthy of the country's oldest legislative body, but the state's bon vivant governor is worried about the cost.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is asking Republican lawmakers to cut spending to commemorate the 1619 founding of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown, the first arrival in British colonies of African slaves, and other parts of the state's colonial past.
McAuliffe said lawmakers should make do with $5 million instead of the $10 million they currently have planned because the state has more pressing needs. The governor wants money spent instead on more than $4 million for jail mental health screenings, plus additional spending to for the Department of Elections and workplace safety inspectors.
"I can throw a heck of an event for $5 million," said McAuliffe, who prior to becoming governor organized several major fundraisers and other events for Democratic Party causes.
The governor outlined his concerns with the GOP-controlled General Assembly's budget proposals in a letter Friday and also spoke to reporters.
Republicans said the governor is trying to score cheap points because he's unhappy with some GOP budget decisions. They said the 2019 celebration funding is a worthwhile investment that will more than pay for itself in tourism and tax revenues. Republicans also noted that the state has previously committed to spending the money, and contracts for the celebration already have been awarded.
"He's just trying to make it political," said GOP House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.
Virginia's mental health system in its jails has been a front-burner issue since the 2015 death of a mentally ill inmate who was being held for stealing $5 worth of junk food. The General Assembly eliminated $4.2 million the governor proposed for training jail staff to conduct mental health screenings and for grants to jails for such assessments.
McAuliffe wants to see another $200,000 restored that he says is necessary to make sure the Board of Corrections thoroughly investigates deaths in local and regional jails.
Lawmakers are set to finish their legislative session next week and send McAuliffe a budget. He can then try to delete and change parts of the budget before it is finalized in April.