Nearly six months after the end of the most recent legislative session, we have finally come to an agreement on the budget. After many weeks of negotiation and conversation, my fellow budget conferees and I found a compromise that worked for both sides. As a reminder, Virginia operates on a two-year budget cycle. We are currently under the 2022-2024 biennial budget, so there has not been a risk of a state government shutdown. This budget is an opportunity to allocate the surplus funds we have from the last fiscal year. Certainly, neither side wanted to leave any money on the table, but finding a compromise was difficult given the stark differences in how each side wanted to spend the surplus.
Republicans have been pushing for significant cuts to the personal income and corporate tax rate. Governor Youngkin has made it a priority to lower taxes across the board, as he compares our rates to states like Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. Businesses are eager to call Virginia home, they don’t need a tax break at the expense of everyone else.
Senate Democrats have been opposed to these tax cuts given their size and impact on future state revenues. This became even more concerning this summer when we learned that Virginia spends significantly less money on our schools. The non-partisan JLARC report recommended $3.5 billion in new spending to bring Virginia schools back up to speed. There are countless ways this surplus could be used to bolster our social services. I am proud to say we found a budget deal that balances responsible tax relief and prioritizes much-needed funding for K-12, higher education, and behavioral health services. Here are the biggest takeaways from the agreement.
First, we agreed to a one-time tax rebate of $200 for single and $400 for joint filers, similar to the rebates given last year. This way, Virginians get some tax relief, but it won’t impact our revenues for the next budget cycle. Second, we made strong investments in public education. We are adding more than $650 million in direct aid to K-12 schools. We also agreed to establish a subcommittee to review elementary and secondary education funding in response to the report released earlier this summer. Additionally, we have allocated nearly $200 million to higher education institutions to increase affordability and address support staff and operational needs. Third, we dedicated more attention to mental health services by allocating $187 million toward expanding crisis receiving centers, increasing compensation for our Community Service Boards, and expanding permanent housing for those with severe mental illnesses.
While the Conference Committee has agreed to this proposal, both Chambers have to vote on the budget before it can be sent to the Governor’s desk for final approval. Governor Youngkin has called the General Assembly back for a Special Session on September 6th to pass the budget agreement. As of press time, the Session will have taken place. I hope the meeting will go smoothly, with an agreement being passed and sent to Governor Youngkin. This Special Session will be bittersweet, as it is likely the final time nearly half of the current Senate will enter the Chamber and carry out the business of the people, myself included.
As we approach the November elections, we need to keep in mind that our divided government is the only reason we have a compromise budget. If Republicans had it their way, this budget would have included significantly less money for investments in K-12 and higher education, and other social services. That money would have been spent giving a tax break to wealthy individuals and corporations that would have negative implications on our revenue for years to come. If we allow Republicans to take control of the Senate there will be nothing stopping them from implementing their out of touch right-wing agenda across the board. Everything from public education to women’s reproductive rights will be at risk. I cannot stress the importance of this election enough. Whoever wins in November will set the course of Virginia for the foreseeable future.
I highly encourage everyone to register to vote or update your voter registration. Early in-person voting begins on September 22nd at your local registrar’s office. You can also request a no-excuse absentee ballot until October 27th. It is essential that we uphold our majority in the Senate and flip the House of Delegates so we can keep Republicans from turning back the clock on women in Virginia.