It’s been a busy few weeks since my big Labor Day BBQ and September shows no signs of slowing down. Between knocking doors here at home and in swing districts across Virginia, attending a Special Session in Richmond, and preparing for the imminent start of the early voting period, the fall is shaping up to be a marathon of activity as we sprint to the end of the year.
I know I’m mixing my running metaphors here, but stick with me. What I’m trying to say is it’s very busy!
The Budget Deal
On September 6th, the General Assembly returned to Richmond for a special session on the state budget. The Governor’s agenda of giving big tax breaks to corporations at the expense of public education funding was soundly defeated as the conferees’ budget largely resembled the draft put forth by Senate Democrats at the end of February. While it’s a shame we lost several months of important funding, here are a few highlights from a budget that prioritized education, mental health care, and putting money back in the wallets of hard-working Virginians.
For our teachers (and state employees), there is an additional 2% salary increase that will go into effect later this year. The budget also includes a $645.3 million increase in direct aid to schools with the City of Falls Church getting an additional $307,343. Plus, the Little City will receive $3 million for improvements to Oak Street Elementary School.
As part of a larger effort to increase access to mental healthcare (more below), $11.7 million is allocated for community and school-based children’s mental health services.
Mental Health & Healthcare
Overall, the budget has $155.6 million in new spending for mental health services:
· $58 million to create crisis receiving centers and crisis stabilization units.
· $10 million for 15 additional mobile crisis teams.
· $34 million for permanent supportive housing and housing for individuals with serious mental illness.
· $18.0 million for a targeted pay raise of an average of 5% for all CSB staff.
· $10.0 million to contract for psychiatric emergency programs in hospitals.
· $4.0 million for the Virginia Mental Health Access Program.
This allocation also includes 500 additional Developmental Disability waiver slots, which will go into effect in January 2024. Further, we were able to maintain budget language allowing state funds for abortions in certain fetal abnormality cases.
The Water Quality Improvement Fund will receive $644 million in the next fiscal year. The Department of Conservation & Recreation’s Agricultural Best Practices will get a total of $338.5 million to help curb pollution and adverse environmental impacts. We’re also investing $30 million in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, plus $17.0 million at the Department of Environmental Quality for local stormwater management projects.
Easing the Burden on Hardworking Virginians
Because of an oversight during the regular 2023 Session, there wasn’t a bill introduced for the annual back to school sales tax holiday that usually occurs in August every year. To remedy that, the budget reinstates the program for school supplies, hurricane preparedness, clothing and footwear and energy efficient appliances. This year, the sales tax holiday will be October 20th to 22nd.
Those that filed taxes this year will get a taxpayer relief check of either $200 or $400, for single and joint filers respectively. When you file your taxes next year, the Standard Deduction will increase to $8,500 for single filers and $17,000 for joint filers.
The budget includes an additional $15.3 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which goes a long way to help those in need.
Continuing to address the Virginia Employment Commission’s backlog of benefits appeals, there is $12.3 million provided for Call Center Support and other necessary administrative items.
The November Election is Coming
I’m sure you’ve seen emails and social media posts about how we are less than 60 days away from the November election. There is a big push to make sure that voters know their options and what’s at stake. So, here’s my early voting PSA:
Early voting begins September 22nd. Thanks to legislation passed while Democrats controlled the General Assembly, you can vote early in-person or absentee for any reason. The last day to register to vote in the November Election is Tuesday, October 16th. (However, you can register after this date, through Election Day, and vote using a provisional ballot.)
The deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you is Friday, October 27th at 5pm. Check out the City of Falls Church Elections Office webpage (https://www.fallschurchva.gov/135/Voter-Registration-Elections) for more details about early voting and weekend voting dates.