To tax or not to tax? Governor Youngkin and Democrats battle over building new schools in Virginia

Posted at 4:44 PM, Apr 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-16 16:44:05-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The way localities can choose to help pay for new school construction and renovation is up for debate this week at the Virginia General Assembly.

Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) vetoed a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly that would have allowed Virginia cities and counties to add a one-percent sales tax to fund school construction and renovation projects if approved by voters in a referendum.

A 2021 report found over half of Virginia's schools are over 50 years old and replacing them would cost around $25 billion.

"We know from a state perspective we can't fund, from the Commonwealth, all $25 billion. And so, this [bill] is really adding a tool to the toolbox for localities with pretty tough thresholds," Sen. Jeremy McPike (D - Prince William), who sponsored one of the bills, said about the tax.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers supported the bill in the General Assembly.

Governor Youngkin offered a different perspective.

"The reality, of course, is this bill is just another tax increase at a time when Virginians really can't afford it," the governor said.

Youngkin said Virginia has and will dedicate money to the issue in his proposed budget amendments that lawmakers will discuss Wednesday.

"In the last biennium, we funded a construct to support over $3 billion of loans and grants for school construction," he said. "And of course, there's another set of investments in this biennium that total $375 million."

Youngkin said there was also dedicated funding coming from casinos.

He said now is not the time for Virginia to add another tax.

"I believe we should be providing tax decreases," he said.

Sen. McPike countered that while Virginia is committing state money, it would not be enough.

He said the governor's veto would lead to cities and counties raising property taxes to cover the costs.

"If we don't pass this, we're missing out on a generation of kids. My kids won't be able to benefit from this. And so, it's really important that we act now and we get the ball moving forward," he said.

Richmond School Superintendent Jason Kamras agrees and said he was disappointed with the governor's veto.

We could have used that opportunity here. It could have generated tens of millions of dollars for school construction," Kamras said. "I don't think I need to convince anybody that we desperately need it."

Those in favor of the bill do have a glimmer of hope.

It would require a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to override the Governor's veto. That is near the number of votes the bill got when it was approved earlier this year.

McPike said he's spoken with several of his Republican colleagues and believed there was enough support among lawmakers to override the Governor's veto.

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