Local Commentary

Delegate Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

On June 1st, the General Assembly convened in Richmond to vote on the Biennium Budget Conference Report. Eight years of strong leadership under Democratic administrations, a strong economic recovery and billions in federal pandemic aid gave us a rare opportunity to invest in Virginians and give back to the commonwealth.

And yet, a split General Assembly with vastly different spending priorities led to prolonged negotiations and a lack of transparency in the process.

While the budget encompasses many of the priorities that Democrats fought relentlessly for, it fails to accomplish the spending that could have raised our public education standing nationally.
My colleague, Delegate Dawn Adams, has shared this summary; a brief snapshot of what was included in the budget, and just as important, what was left out:

The Good:

Provides $4 billion in tax relief over three years;
A one-time rebate of $250 for individuals or $500 for families;
Increases the standard deduction to $8,000 for single filers and $16,000 for joint filers;
$301 million in phased-in tax relief for military retirees 55 years or older;
$315 million to make Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit partially refundable (15 percent of federal EITC);
Eliminates the 1.5 percent state grocery tax on January 1st, 2023, while allowing localities to still opt-in for a 1 percent tax to fund core priorities;
$1.25 billion in funding to school infrastructure investments to replace or repair outdated school buildings
Gives a 10 percent raise over two years to state employees and schoolteachers, plus $1000 bonuses
$391 million to fund an additional 600 Developmental Disability waivers and raise reimbursement rates;
Increases Medicaid reimbursements for personal care and dental services by 7.5 percent and 30 percent, respectively;
Provides $140 million in funding for undergraduate need-based financial aid.

The Bad:

Directs $100 million to fund experimental Lab Schools rather than investing in Virginia’s public school system;
Halves the proposed $269 million At-Risk Add On, a program that directs additional funding to schools with high concentrations of low-income families;
Eliminates proposed additional funding of $150 million from the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to support affordable housing initiatives and prevent homelessness;
Underfunds the Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevent Grant Fund by reducing the Senate proposal by $16 million at a time when gun violence across the nation and commonwealth is at an all-time high;
Delays the phaseout of polystyrene food containers to 2028;
Establishes a criminal misdemeanor for marijuana possession over 4 ounces, (and by default, includes products that weigh the same) despite marijuana having been legalized in 2021;
Essentially legalizes retail cannabis sales by allowing the sale of “hemp” with unrestricted amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, so long as products are labeled for content;
Fails to provide any relief for Virginians from high gas prices;
Structures the 10 percent raise for state employees and schoolteachers, such that only 2.5 percent is applied this year and 7.5 percent the following (which is not guaranteed).

I have never witnessed such an opaque process during my years as a Delegate. Select budget conferees met behind closed doors and sought no input from the public or the general
House and Senate membership.

Legislators had less than 72 hours to review the conference report and were not given an opportunity to offer amendments before taking a vote. While I support the budget, it is important for me to register my disagreements.

The House of Delegates will return to Richmond before June 30th on a date to be determined to vote on any amendments the Governor makes to the enrolled Budget.

Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]