No to Arena Deal; Yes, Bipartisan Budget!

No to Arena Deal; Yes, Bipartisan Budget!

The Governor's recent statewide publicity tour, labeling the budget we just passed 62-37, as a “Backward Budget,” necessitates a clarification of its true merits. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am compelled to set the record straight about the strong bipartisan budget awaiting the Governor’s signature by the April 8 deadline. This budget, a product of a General Assembly Session-long collaborative effort on both sides of the aisle, stands as a testament to our commitment to Virginia’s progress and fiscal responsibility. With vital allocations for education, healthcare, community safety, transportation, environmental preservation, and economic development, this budget reflects the dedication to serving the needs of all Virginians. As we await the Governor’s decision, it is imperative to recognize the importance of delivering a balanced budget by July 1, in line with our constitutional obligation.

I was proud to join our House and Senate Democratic leadership this week at George Mason University for a stop on the Virginia Families First Tour for a dialogue directly with Virginia residents and the media on how this budget prioritizes their needs and helps us keep Virginia moving forward, especially as it concerns our young people.

Our $188 billion budget exemplifies our commitment to ensuring all students have access to a world-class education, from pre-K through college. Our educators across the Commonwealth will be getting a raise of 3% each year to ensure we can keep their talent in Virginia. $371.3 million will be allocated over the biennium to implement several Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) recommendations to expand funding provided for at-risk students. Funding is provided to support additional English Learner and special education teachers, expand the reading specialist staffing standard to include positions to serve students in grades 4 through 8, and more, to ensure students have their unique needs met. $527.8 million over the biennium will support early childhood care and education programs, representing a $116.7 million increase above the introduced budget.

Our budget supports an additional 3,440 developmental disability (DD) waiver slots and an increase in provider rates, provides $30 million in funding to combat the opioid epidemic, and fully funds $745.2 million over the biennium for the Medicaid and children’s health insurance forecasts. For behavioral health, the budget provides $25.0 million the first year and $2.6 million the second year to continue developing crisis infrastructure, provides $10.0 million each year for Community Service Board (CSB) workforce development and staffing, and invests $10.0 million the first year for additional mobile crisis units.

Preventing violence in our communities continues to be at the forefront of everything we do. This budget invests $110 million for community violence intervention programming. When you experience domestic and sexual violence, you should be able to get the help you need. Our budget funds Victim Witness, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Victim, and Victim Services grant programs. The budget also provides $19.1 million for start-up costs at two new veterans care centers.

The budget allocates $200 million to the Community Flood Prevention Fund to support flood mitigation, provides additional direct support to 14 historic and cultural sites across the Commonwealth, and gives $5 million over the biennium to implement statewide coordinated invasive species management. A language amendment also requires that the Commonwealth re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Also accounted for was $175.0 million for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to support the creation or preservation of affordable housing, $5 million I requested for mobile home park preservation, $30 million in funding to help with costs related to “make ready” work on American Rescue Plan Act-funded broadband infrastructure projects, and $40.0 million in investments over the biennium for the Virginia Business Ready Sites program.

For those of us in Northern Virginia, the budget includes my request for $149.5 million over the biennium in dedicated support for Metro, including lifting the current 3% cap on annual increases to Virginia’s funding for Metro. Also, I was successful in creating a Northern Virginia firefighter occupational cancer screening pilot program, and support for an African American Research Fellowship at Mount Vernon requested by the community-based charity, Black Women United for Action.

Finally, the Governor has stated that this budget creates new taxes. Our budget does not, in fact, introduce any new taxes beyond what the Governor himself proposed. Indeed, we accepted the Governor’s own modernization proposal to apply the existing sales tax to digital commerce, including digital downloads and streaming which are not currently taxed in Virginia, which he dubbed in December as the “Big Tech Tax Loophole.” These forms of commerce did not exist when sales tax was first introduced. However, he would have offset those increases by cutting personal income taxes to especially benefit the wealthiest taxpayers, which we did not include in our budget.

The Governor’s deadline to act on legislation, including the budget, is April 8. With his Alexandria arena deal, which I was proud to vote against twice, now thankfully “dead in the water” with the District of Columbia’s Attorney General's opinion that the Caps and Wizards cannot leave DC before 2047, a line item amendment by the Governor putting the arena back in the budget is no longer likely.

I stand firm with Democratic leadership in championing the budget awaiting the Governor's signature by the April 8 deadline. This budget, a testament to our commitment to Virginia's progress, prioritizes education, healthcare, transportation, community safety, environmental preservation, and economic growth. From funding for education enhancements, behavioral health initiatives, and affordable housing, to investments in flood prevention and transportation, this budget is a blueprint for a thriving Commonwealth. I urge the Governor to get serious and finally drop his quixotic, unpopular Alexandria arena deal, and sign this bipartisan budget bill knowing that it fulfills our constitutional duty and serves the best interests of all Virginians.