As the 2023 short session winds down, the most significant legislation we have left to work on are the two budget bills amending the two-year state budget plan we adopted last year.
As the saying goes, a budget is a reflection of one's priorities, and the House and Senate budgets released last week underscore the stark contrast in priorities between the two chambers and the two parties. With a staggering $1 billion difference between them, the Democrats and Republicans in Richmond clearly have very different visions for Virginia's future.
The GOP's House Budget
Unfortunately, the House budget, crafted by Republicans, falls short in meeting the needs of hardworking Virginians. At the heart of the budget are over $350 million in corporate tax breaks, which disproportionately benefit big businesses rather than the average Virginian. This, in turn, puts critical services like our schools, roads, and healthcare in jeopardy. It is evident that the Republican party is more concerned with appeasing their corporate donors and extremist base than ensuring that middle-class Virginians have the resources they need to succeed.
At a time when inflation is causing significant strain for many households, it is simply unacceptable that the House budget proposes middle-class Virginians pay a higher tax rate than our wealthiest corporations. As we delve deeper into the budget negotiations, we will be keeping a watchful eye on this discrepancy and advocating for the needs of all Virginians.
The House budget is a cause for concern on multiple fronts. Notably, it includes a provision for $50 million to be directed towards lab schools, which diverts much-needed attention and funding away from our public school system. Additionally, the House budget eliminates language that allows for state-funded abortions in certain fetal abnormality diagnoses - a critical access point that is currently allowed in state law. This, coupled with a $13.4 million reduction in the VA Cannabis Control Authority budget, presents a worrying picture of the House GOP's priorities.
The House budget also fails to allocate funds for important programs, such as the Firearm Violence & Prevention Center, the Safer Communities Program, and the Cover All Kids healthcare initiative. These are just a few of the more prominent disparities between the House and Senate budgets.
Working to Fix the Budget
As Deputy Floor Leader, I worked with Leader Don Scott to improve the House version of the budget. Together, we had amendments drafted and introduced that would have addressed real issues facing our communities - issues that Virginians care deeply about, such as school funding, abortion access, gun violence prevention, and protecting our democracy. It was our hope that these amendments would help bridge the gap between the House and Senate budgets, ultimately leading to a more equitable and just budget that serves all Virginians.
Specifically, our amendments would have kept the corporate tax rate at its current level and allocated the revenue to fully fund our school systems in Virginia. They also would have kept the top tax bracket the same as it is today and used the additional revenue to raise teacher pay to the national average - an 11% increase over what teachers in Virginia are paid today.
None of these amendments were adopted, but it gave us an opportunity to showcase our priorities while forcing a vote on these important issues. Although I voted against this version of the budget, the process is far from over. There is still time to make changes as the House and Senate budget conferees will have to come together to close the budget gap, giving both Chambers another opportunity to vote on a better budget (we hope!). Either way, the General Assembly is constitutionally bound to create a balanced budget, which always makes the last few weeks of session interesting.
Last weekend while I was back in the district for a few days, I hosted office hours at Northside Social and greeted dozens of constituents who stopped by to say hello, lobby me for budget and legislative priorities, or simply thank me for serving. I look forward to scheduling a number of in-person post-session events to update you all and get your feedback on how session went.
Finally, I wanted to take a moment to thank the Dranesville District Democratic Committee for hosting an amazing brunch and straw poll, which I was pleased to attend!
I’m proud to announce that I received more overall votes than any other candidate in any race in the mostly-just-for-fun straw poll and outpaced my likely primary opponent with over 98% of the vote.