On this past Sunday afternoon, Feb. 20, the House Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met separately to report their respective proposed budget bills, HB 29 and HB 30, and SB 29 and SB 39. Spending for HB/SB 29 ends at the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2022. HB/SB 30 covers the fiscal year 2023-2024 biennium beginning on July 1, 2022. This is an exciting day each session, and the culmination of many hearings and a lot of work for the money committees in each body to allocate $58.3 billion over the biennium period.
As an update to my column earlier this session, I am pleased to announce that many of my important budget initiatives were included in the House Appropriations Budget which will be voted on this Thursday before it then will go into conference to be reconciled with the Senate version.
Most exciting is a joint effort with Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk where I was able to procure $400,000 to outfit the new Lee District Community and Workforce Development Center, scheduled to open this year in the heart of Hybla Valley, serving residents up and down Richmond Highway with job training, recreational activities, and childcare. In addition, the center will contain classroom and workshop space that will be utilized to upskill and train residents for employment in the trades and technology jobs of the future. Through partnerships with the building trades, and companies like Amazon and INOVA Hospital Systems, these trainings will be directly linked to employment opportunities that will be available in the area over the next two years and beyond.
Also good news is that two of our local charities, United Community and Good Shepherd Housing are included in the budget at $500,000 per year, and a one-time amount of $200,000 respectively. This is a much needed infusion of funding that will enable these charities to continue their critical work to end multi-generational poverty, providing housing, emergency services, children’s services, and budget counseling, among many other resources for low-income families in our area.
I secured funding of $75,000 to create a code commission to review the Code of Virginia and recommend changes to the General Assembly that are needed to reflect the recent federal recognition of Tribal Nations that share territory with the Commonwealth. This two year Commission will include members from each of the federally recognized tribes as well as ten legislators.
My bill HB 766, which passed the House, creates an Illegal Gaming Enforcement Coordinator to organize the enforcement of illegal gaming laws by the state and local law enforcement agencies and is now funded with $334,962 over the biennium.
My effort to create a Special Assistant to the Governor for Disability Rights Advocacy is in the budget at $350,000 for each year of the biennium. One in four Virginians live with a disability. This position will be a great asset to the residents of Virginia, for people with disabilities, caregivers, and family members, regardless of age of onset, type of disability, and socio-economic status.
Likewise, I will fight to keep the $2 million I had in last year’s budget for River Farm to be repurposed for accessibility improvements on the property, including ADA compliant public trails, viewing and parking areas, shoreline stabilization, and elimination of invasive plant species.
While we had many budget “wins,” I am disappointed that the budget does not include my request to use additional ARPA funds for a hazard pay bonus to public transit workers.
I was also disappointed to see funds proposed by Governor Northam and me to allow Virginia’s federally recognized Tribal Nations to acquire historic property stripped from the House budget proposal. I hope to continue working in future years to advocate for this funding.
I look forward to voting on this budget on the House Floor on Thursday, and fighting to keep these critical initiatives in the final budget that will soon head to Governor Youngkin’s desk.