The legislative budget process begins once the Governor’s bill has been pre-filed. A series of public hearings are scheduled around the state to discuss the proposed budget. Once the proposed budget has been officially introduced in January, the process moves into high gear with the money committees beginning their independent assessment of the budget.
Much of the detailed budget review occurs at the subcommittee level. Subcommittees are established for each functional area of state government. In addition, two subcommittees deal with issues of statewide significance, i.e., capital outlay and compensation and general government . For the most part, subcommittees are the authoritative voice on policy and funding decisions on the budget. Subcommittee recommendations are almost never rejected or even significantly altered.
At the same time that Appropriations subcommittees are reviewing the Governor’s proposals, they also are considering budget requests from members of the House at large. Members submit requests to amend the introduced budget based on interests of their constituents. Every House member who submits a budget amendment is given the opportunity to speak to his request before the full House Appropriations Committee.
The Committee considers 1,100-1,500 individual budget amendments during a long session and a slightly smaller number during a short session. To manage this process, a computerized budget amendment system is administered by staff of the House Appropriations Committee. A similar system is operated by Senate Finance staff to accommodate budget amendments requested by senators.
In the Senate, the Finance Committee also has responsibility for acting on revenue bills that potentially affect the appropriation process and must be reflected in the budget bill. The House Appropriations Committee monitors activities of the House Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over revenue matters in the House and reflects Finance Committee action in its final budget recommendations.
In a long session, a period of six weeks is available from the time the Governor’s budget is introduced to the time it must be acted on by the legislature. This provides the Appropriations Committee roughly five weeks to conduct its review and make recommendations to the full House. The time period is somewhat shorter in the odd-numbered years when the biennial budget is being amended.
Budget recommendations are adopted by the Committee through subcommittee reports. The reports include all of the recommended changes to the Governor’s proposal. Subcommittee reports are adopted as a package by the Appropriations Committee and are transformed into the detailed amendments which are sent to the floor of the House.
Copies of the Committee’s recommended amendments, referred to as “half sheets”, and brief summaries of proposed actions are distributed to all House members shortly after the Committee concludes its work. The Committee Chairman then schedules budget briefings for the House members a day or two before the floor vote is scheduled.
The Budget Bill is considered on the House floor under the one objection rule. This means the bill, with its proposed amendments, is adopted as a block except for specific amendments that members object to and ask be considered separately.
After the budget bill is approved by the House, it is transmitted to the Senate. Similarly, the Senate budget bill is transmitted to the House. By custom, the Senate rejects the House budget which opens the door for a Committee of Conference to be appointed. Budget conferees, generally four senior members from the Senate Finance Committee and four from the House Appropriations Committee, are charged with resolving all the differences between the House and Senate budgets. It takes roughly two weeks to develop a compromise on the budget. The Conference Committee’s report is then sent back to the House and Senate floors for final approval. The Conference Report must be accepted or rejected in its entirety. It cannot be amended.
This concludes the legislative budget process, and the budget is sent to the Governor for his signature. If necessary, the Governor’s amendments or vetoes are considered during the veto session, which is held about six weeks after the regular session adjourns.
For more answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ's) on the overall legislative process, please visit the Virginia General Assembly Legislative Essentials webpage..