As I was preparing to head back to Jefferson’s Capitol for this discussion, I thought about what one delegate could do to help shed some light on what I am hoping to achieve on Monday. It is not lost on me the unknowns associated with much of what is to be discussed in this publication due to the political differences in the legislature. Please know, there are significant uncertainties. But I will do my best to offer what I know the Valley is calling for, what Virginians around the Commonwealth are calling for, and what is the right thing to do.
On a quick aside, and before stepping into my hopes for next week, I wanted to offer a thought. One thing Governor Youngkin has demonstrated, outside of policy and the potential association with politics, is his consistent level-headed, quiet, and humble approach to governance without compromising on our values. There has been a good-natured, Virginians-first, and sometimes humorous demeanor from the Governor’s Mansion since January. A quote I heard many times during session a few weeks ago speaks to this, “We can disagree and not be disagreeable.” In this divided climate, when it would be so easy to fall into the “us and them” mentality, it is a good example to follow. I hope to do the same today through this medium.
Now, to the budget.
The House, led by Speaker Todd Gilbert, aligns with the approach of the Governor. Virginia, by having record levels of surplus in tax revenue (to the tune of $13.4 billion), is in a position where we as legislators can reconcile this situation. The House aimed to prioritize the taxpayer by sending those dollars back to you with tax rebates of up to $300 per filer and $600 per couple. I enthusiastically agree.
Oftentimes, I think elected representatives may forget who we are elected to represent; as a delegate, it is my responsibility to represent the 25th District to the government of the Commonwealth, and not the government to our district. It is from this perspective I, and a majority in the House of Delegates, voted for a House version of the budget that contains more than $5 billion in tax relief.
Across the hall with a different majority, the Senate seems to have a different perspective based on their rejection of this proposal. With record tax revenue and the ability to do so, will reconciliation be offered for these funds on Monday? I truly hope so. Truly, bold relief is needed across our Commonwealth, and this budget should incorporate it. If not now, during a hard financial period and unprecedented tax revenues, when?
One of the more impactful conversations I expect to take part in relates to the dramatic rise in gas prices. The governor has proposed a holiday for the gas tax, effectively lowering the price of gas by 26 cents per gallon. Across the political spectrum, this issue has been a contested one, with many folks sharing different opinions. For me, regardless of how this issue is addressed, with the governor’s proposal or a facsimile of it, it is important we in the General Assembly are doing what we can to negate the impacts of inflation. Doing so will make an impact on your bottom line.
If Richmond is in a position to adopt proposals such as this, and others, policies that ease the tax burden on Virginians while meeting our obligations and funding the core services of government (and in many cases, increase funding for prioritized areas, with teacher pay as an example), why wouldn’t representatives of the People pursue such a policy? To me, and many of the folks I talk with, it is the right thing to do.
And the House priority of relief can be accomplished all while incorporating record investments in education with a 5% increase to teacher pay totaling $1.4 billion, $2 billion for new school construction, as well as $150 million for lab schools. It can be accomplished by fully eliminating the grocery tax, a policy Virginians called for by electing our new Governor and House majority. Relief to this extent can be accomplished by exempting $40,000 in veteran retirement benefits from income taxes. The taxpayer can be prioritized with key transportation projects and initiatives continuing on, including in our area with Interstate 81.
By this point, I think you can see what my foundation is built upon – the taxpayer. The Commonwealth runs on revenue generated by everyday people working for a paycheck. I guess to summarize what I hope the Special Session will produce is a budget that puts emphasis and priority on just that – your bottom line.
Can these items be adopted? What will the final $150+ billion document really include? How will you be impacted? What will my colleagues in the Senate do down the hall?
We shall see. For me, I say let’s prioritize your bottom line and start there.