The 2024 General Assembly Session is winding down with only two weeks remaining. The big news this week is that budgets advanced in both the House and the Senate.

The Senate focused on developing a bipartisan budget to a large extent. We wanted to get buy-in from as many legislators as possible. Like any bill, the budget can be vetoed by the Governor, and we want to avoid any prolonged budget stalemate like we have seen in recent years. So, while it was clear the Governor’s approach was unworkable, we needed to include representatives from the Governor’s party in our work.

I have written of the budget a number of times in this space. The Governor proposed to raise the sales tax by 0.9 of a percent to raise about $900 million over the biennium. He proposed a general income tax cut of .12 percent that would have cost about $2.1 billion over the biennium. In other words, he presented us with an unbalanced budget that did not meet the vital needs of Virginians and put us in a $1.2 billion hole to begin our budget deliberations.

In light of the 2023 JLARC report that Virginia is underfunding K-12 education by about $4 billion a year, the Governor’s proposal was unacceptable. Both the House and Senate budgets rejected his tax plan and chose instead to fund critical infrastructure and needs.

The Senate rejected the general sales increase but did apply the sales tax to the sale of digital goods. If I buy a record or a CD – whether it be online or at a brick-and-mortar store – I pay sales tax on that purchase. However, if I download music from Apple Music or Amazon, I do not. The Senate tax plan will address that disparity and provide more equity in the taxing of goods. We increased the revenue available by $1.3 billion over the biennium.

We focused this year on beginning to address the findings of the JLARC report. And I say begin, because we simply are unable to resolve the funding shortages in one biennium. In this budget, we increased funding for K-12 education by over $1.6 billion, including over $525 million for teacher compensation and $400 million to remove the funding cap on support staff.

If public education is the backbone of a functional democracy, our educators are the heart and soul. The House and Senate have passed legislation, which will likely be finalized in a conference committee, to ensure we stay on a path to paying our teachers above the national average. The bottom line is that Virginia should pay teachers commensurate with our status as one of the wealthiest states in the country. If we want to retain the best teachers and ensure our students can compete in the global economy, we have to offer competitive pay for educators. The budget this year is a first step.

While K-12 was a priority, the Senate budget also provides critical funding increases for Medicaid reimbursement rates, for crisis services, and for staff recruitment and retention at our community services boards. The Senate also includes funding for a 2.5% raise for our state employees in each fiscal year. We also provide additional funding for financial aid at our colleges and universities and for broadband expansion. For more details, the subcommittee reports for both the House and Senate are available here.

We are approaching the most dangerous part of the session. In the final weeks of session, many of the remaining bills will be in conference, as a few legislators will work to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill. The compromise must be approved by both chambers. This is the time when every member of the legislature has to pay close attention. When legislators are tired and ready to head home, it is an easy time to miss critical, last-minute changes in the legislation.

I am constantly reminded of my good fortune to be able to do this work. I am grateful for your encouragement, support, and information. I receive so much input from people throughout the year and during the legislative session. Sometimes people disagree with me or with initiatives that I have been involved in, but it is always good to receive feedback from people. If I can be of service in these waning days of the legislative session, please call my office at (804) 698-7511 or email me at senatordeeds@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh