When the General Assembly entered the legislative session, the state was experiencing steady financial growth – years of strong fiscal management combined with an infusion of federal aid had built a budget surplus with which we could make significant investments in the people of Virginia. The new economic pressures of the last six months, coupled with the partisan makeup of the House and Executive Branch, extended our budget negotiations far beyond the legislative session. Thoughtful negotiations produced a compromised budget proposal which we voted to send to the Governor for his approval on June 1st.
The final budget, negotiated by a small group of budget conferees, reflects some priorities of both Republicans and Democrats. While the final deal falls short of some of the proposals which then-Governor Ralph Northam made in December, it still retains major investments in education, the environment, and public infrastructure. I was also glad to see several of my budget priorities included in the final spending plan. At the same time, the budget provides some important, though measured reforms to tax policy which will hopefully alleviate the strain caused by the record price hikes suffered across the world which we have witnessed this year.
These prudent decisions include increasing the standard deduction to $8,000 for single filers and $16,000 for couples, the removal of the state portion of the grocery tax, direct $250 rebates to taxpayers, and a refundable portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low income Virginians.
After a challenging two years of pandemic learning, the legislature made the most significant investment in K-12 and higher education in recent memory. This included a 10% pay raise over two years for K-12 teachers plus one time $1,000 bonus and $10 million in American Rescue Plan funds for recruitment incentives for hard-to-fill education positions. We allotted $400 million in school construction and modernization funding paired with an additional $450 million from the literary fund for loans for targeted school construction projects. To improve in-person learning we also chose to increase the number of support positions per 1000 students from 17.5 to 21 over the biennium and funded 1 reading assistant per every 550 students in kindergarten through third grade.
The budget makes strong investments in public safety and mental healthcare including $195.7 million for targeted compensation initiatives for sworn officers of the Department of State Police, correctional officers and probation and parole officers, and Deputy Sheriffs and Regional Jail Officers. We also allocated $13 million for community violence-focused grant programs to reduce gun and group violence through intervention services.
Though I believe we could have taken bolder steps to combat the cost of housing, I am glad that the budget also includes a total of $150 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and includes $240 million in state tax credits to support the building and preservation of affordable housing.
It is also important to note that despite the Governor Youngkin’s calls to pull Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative (RGGI), the compromise budget retains our place in RGGI and the resulting hundreds of millions in community flood prevention dollars and energy efficiency programs which we have won through the sale of carbon credits.
I was glad to see several requests I made included in the final budget including complete funding for the construction of the John Warner Maritime Center in Alexandria, funding to preserve and digitize records of patients at Central State Hospital, and $8 million to provide air conditioning at several currently unairconditioned correctional facilities.
The final budget is the product of diligent work and compromise by the General Assembly hashed out over months of negotiation. It is my hope the Governor will sign it quickly. Doing so will allow these important and, in some cases, historically large investments in the Commonwealth to move forward at a crucial time of pandemic recovery and economic growth.