Throughout the last few months people have been sure to tell me how they thought the so-called surplus Virginia enjoys ought to be spent – more money for education, more money for our beautiful state parks, more money for transportation projects, more money for human services like mental health, more money for healthcare, and the list goes on. I’ve consistently advised people that we will have to find a path forward that resolves the demand of the Governor for tax cuts with the need for funding other priorities.
The rubber has now hit the road. This week the Senate and the House of Delegates advanced budget plans. The plans are starkly different.
While the House budget does include many priorities that people have requested, including teacher pay raises, it is it also includes about $5.3 billion in tax cuts. Those cuts significantly diminish the revenue available for other spending priorities.
The Senate budget includes over $2.5 billion in tax cuts over the biennium. The budget provides for a $250 per person rebate to taxpayers, eliminates the state share of the sales tax on groceries, and increases the business interest deduction. The budget also funds many priorities, including:
- A five percent increase for teacher salaries as well as a $1,000 bonus and allocates $500 million for school construction funding. The Senate also provides an additional $272 million for support positions and $44 million for early childhood and pre-K programs.
- Much needed rate increases for personal care services, dental services, home and community based services, peer recovery and family support, and funding to cover increased staffing in our nursing homes. All of these funding items can help improve access to care.
- Fully funding STEP Virginia, providing over $30 million for permanent supportive housing, funding raises for direct care staff at our state hospitals and retention bonuses for community services board staff, and creating more psychiatric residency slots.
- Significant allocations to improve the affordability of higher education, including increases in the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program and funding for need-based aid at our public colleges and universities.
- A five percent pay raise for state employees and state-supported local employees as well as a $1,000 bonus on June 1 of this year.
- Funding for a compensation plan for our state police that increases starting salaries and addresses salary compression. Additional funding to address similar issues with our deputy sheriffs throughout the Commonwealth and $47 million in funding for local police departments. We also increase pay for district court clerks and increase the reimbursement rates to our regional jails for state-responsible inmates.
For a fuller picture of the Senate and House budgets, you can review the subcommittee reports at this link.
The Senate budget also incorporates a number of amendments I introduced beyond some of the measures listed above. The Senate budget fully funds the Behavioral Health Commission and includes language to facilitate the transfer of Hayfields Farm to the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the purposes of creating a state park. The Senate budget also establishes two Coalfield Community Development Program Manager positions, provides funding to the Western Virginia Public Education Consortium, and allocates new money to Virginia Humanities to expand Virginia Indian history programming. I was also able to secure funding for the Restoration and Hope House in Charlottesville and the Judge Jay T. Swett Learning Center. The Senate also adopted amendments I introduced to provide additional funding for the surveillance of surface water and groundwater PFAS and to fund two staff biologists to administer a statewide mussel restoration plan.
The differences in the budget are as stark as any I’ve ever seen. We will spend the next two weeks trying to reconcile the differences and approve a balanced budget by March 12, the scheduled adjournment of the legislative session.
It is an honor to serve in the Senate of Virginia. I have appreciated the thoughtful input from so many constituents and look forward to your feedback in the closing weeks. If you have any comments about outstanding legislation or need assistance with a state agency, I hope you will contact my office at (804) 698-7525 or by email at [email protected].