Friday, May 17, 2024

Budget Special Session

This week’s Richmond report comes to you from . . .well, Richmond.  The General Assembly returned to the Capitol on Monday for the Special Session to consider the recently released 2024-2026 State Budget.  

Now I know what you’re asking yourself . . . these extra sessions have become such a regular phenomenon, is it really accurate to call them special sessions anymore? Are the really still “special?”  

While I don’t necessarily disagree, that’s still what we call them.  

Although the General Assembly completed its work on time and sent a comprehensive budget to the Governor back in March, the Governor initially attempted to rewrite it with an unprecedented 233 individual amendments. He then threatened the first ever veto of a biennial state budget passed by the General Assembly.  

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and members of the House and Senate have been meeting with the Governor for weeks to create a budget compromise that we could all agree on. In the end, the House of Delegates came out as the big winner in these negotiations, preserving the lions' share of our priorities, with some nods to the State Senate and agreeing not to cross a few red lines put in place by the Governor. 

The House passed the new budget 96-4 and the Senate 39-1. The Governor has already signed it.  

Let’s start with what’s NOT in the budget: 

The new budget does not include the Governor’s proposed sales tax increase - a regressive tax that hits families and lower income people the hardest. 

Also not included is the Governor’s tax giveaway to the ultra-wealthy – a package that would have resulted in nearly $10,000 for the wealthiest 1% while raising taxes for individuals making less than $58,000 per year.  

Unfortunately, the language ensuring Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is not included. In 2020, we passed legislation to join RGGI, but since then the Governor has refused to adhere to the law. I have heard from many constituents about this, and I absolutely agree that Virginia should be a part of RGGI. Given the Governor’s illegal action here, I have no doubt that lawsuits are pending. 

On the flip side, the new budget does contain many of our priorities that were highlighted in the original compromise budget that passed in March. 

Just last year, a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report highlighted that Virginia underfunds K-12 education by $4 billion a year. With this budget, we made significant investments to address this, including funding a 3% pay increase each year for teachers and school employees. Furthermore, Falls Church Public Schools will receive an estimated $10,350,000 for FY 2025, which is about $1 million more than was in the Governor’s original budget. Meanwhile, Fairfax County will receive over $1 billion or about $62.5 million more than the original budget. 

I’m also happy to report that my budget amendment to restore funding for the Student Loan Ombudsman Office (which I helped establish) is included. The Ombudsman provides timely assistance to student borrowers of any student education loan in the Commonwealth.  

We kept the language that authorizes state funding for abortions in cases of severe abnormalities. 

To strengthen our mental health resources, there is $20 million for additional mobile crisis units and $32 million to expand and modernize crisis services provided by Community Service Boards across the Commonwealth. Out of this, $3.6 million will go directly to Crisis Intervention assessment centers in six unserved rural communities. 

Further, we are funding over 3,000 additional I/DD waiver slots to help reduce the Priority One waiting list. And we have $10.2 million for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to help low-income families meet their basic needs. 

The budget also includes $7.6 million for sexual assault and domestic violence prevention programs as well as $2 million in grants for hate crime prevention programs at state agencies and non-profits. 

After a battle over WMATA funding, we secured $318 million to ensure that Virginia continues to pay its fair share, investing in public transportation.  

We kept our promise to state employees by maintaining a 3% raise each budget year. 

To help with housing initiatives, we’ve committed $87.5 million each year to the Housing Trust Fund, which works to preserve affordable housing and reduce homelessness. 

In short, there are a lot of good things we can be proud of in this latest compromise budget. Much can be accomplished when we work together. But to be clear, there is more that we can and should be doing when it comes to investing in our economy and the Commonwealth.