Virginia lawmakers release budget proposals, pay raises for state employees included

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 09:58:30-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The House and Senate of Virginia have released their proposed budgets for the commonwealth for the next two years -- rejecting several tax proposals from Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, but accepting others while giving more of a pay increase to teachers.

There are some differences between the budget proposals, and teachers say while it's an improvement, neither proposal goes far enough.

At the state capitol Monday, there was a call to action, as advocates are asking for more funding for public education following a study last year that shows Virginia is below the national average on that front.

“Funding our schools should be an expectation and not an option. Our students deserve the best,” said Dr. James Fedderman, the President of the Virginia Education Association.

An ask that was only partially answered Sunday -- when the House and Senate released their changes to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin's proposed two-year budget.

“While it's slightly shy of what we would have hoped, it's still moving in the right direction. And I'm just highly disappointed that the governor's budget did not do more to increase all the levels of funding,” Fedderman said.

Among the changes on the education front, both chambers increase funding by over $1 billion for K-12, including higher raises for teachers between 6% to 6.8%.

“But, this is only the beginning, it's going to take a lot to get to that over $4 billion of need. So this is just the start of what's actually needed in K-12. Education,” State Senator Mamie Locke said.

Both versions also include higher pay raises for state workers.

“The governor only offered in his budget a 1% increase in salaries for state employees. We felt that that was not sufficient enough. So we're offering a 6% increase,” Delegate Luke Torian said.

Overall, the Democrat-controlled bodies mostly rejected Youngkin's tax proposals.

Those include a decrease in the individual income tax rate and an increase in the sales tax.

They are, however, keeping the proposal to expand the sales tax to cover digital products like streaming services.

“This is what is required for us to do what we need to do for the citizens of the Commonwealth, the hard-working citizens of the Commonwealth deserve this. And so this is just the direction we're gonna take,” Senator Louise Lucas said.

Republicans say the Governor's plan was a global tax reform package -- and Democrats only kept what gave them more money to spend.

“I think our colleagues on the other side are never at a loss for trying to spend money. So going out and finding extra money certainly seemed like the way to do it. And they didn't waste any time,” said Delegate Todd Gilbert.

Republicans also criticized language in the House version they say ties all funding to Virginia's re-enrollment in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative -- which Governor Glenn Youngkin withdrew from.

“I just don't think they understand that we're Virginia, we should be taking care of Virginians first and not worried about what California is doing in terms of emissions and greenhouse gases and that kind of thing,” said Delegate Mike Cherry.

When asked for a response to this, a spokesperson for the House Democrats pointed to the statement Del. Torian put out after the committee approved the budget.

“We have included significant investments in our natural resources, directing $200 million over the biennium to the Community Flood Prevention Fund to support community-scale flood mitigation projects and including more than $200 million in the Water Quality Improvement Fund. These allocations are conditional on the expected revenue the Commonwealth will receive from the re-entry to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)," Torian said.

For his part, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin says he'll review the two proposals "through the lens that structural balance matters, that Virginians can’t afford another tax increase and, in fact, need additional tax relief."

He adds they need to build on investments in numerous areas -- and is confident he can work with the assembly to move Virginia forward together.

Once each chamber has passed its version of the budget -- lawmakers from each side will work together on a compromise between the two.

Among the other big differences between the two -- is the House including language that allows for a pro-sports arena in Northern Virginia, while the Senate does not.

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