The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.
The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

It is good to know my friend Del. Joe McNamara is a champion of honesty in campaigns (Sept. 7, “Legislators should be honest in portraying their votes on the budget”). According to his theory, you can’t praise a tax cut for veterans if you opposed a 20% corporate tax cut, and you can’t mention you voted to lift the standard deduction for middle class taxpayers if you opposed unnecessary tax cuts for profitable corporations. The original $1 billion price tag benefitting corporations and the wealthiest among was not a smart vote. The bill we passed last week protects future generations while sending an immediate rebate to citizens, adding more fuel to our growing economy which is nearing full employment. 

And as it concerns honesty, there is plenty of pay dirt elsewhere. His party’s presumed nominee for president is 6’3,” 215 pounds and is growing taller and thinner with each indictment. How about the daily garbage dump on Democratic candidates for the General Assembly paid for by out-of-state millionaires newly interested in Virginia? To address honesty concerns, why don’t we start with vicious personal attacks and lies? 

As it concerns taxes, some of us have been around long enough to know that the economy of today will not be the economy tomorrow. 

Virginia’s current revenue surplus is, in part, a result of economic transactions our citizens have made under our current tax system. The economic condition that helped get us here was created in large part by the federal government’s response to a deadly worldwide pandemic that killed one million Americans. Some of my friends on the other side pretend the federal investment had nothing to do with our (temporary?) budget surplus. Maybe that is because all of their federal cousins voted against legislation that funds modern infrastructure, broadband deployment and the transition to clean power that will underpin our future growth. 

To assume these economic results will last forever is fiscally irresponsible. 

As it concerns education, after the Great Recession, tough decisions had to be made. Because K-12 education is the single largest state expenditure, one of these decisions was to severely cap state funding for non-instructional support personnel. Over the past 13 years, that one cut — one that left critical school functions 100% to localities — could not be reversed until now

Thanks to the bipartisan budget amendments passed last week, our struggling school divisions have new funds for the remainder of this fiscal year, funds that are not necessarily going to be available in the future. Because of this uncertainty, House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight wisely suggested a comprehensive look at K-12 funding prior to next year’s budget negotiations given the recent, thorough, non-partisan analysis of our system’s weaknesses. That idea was accepted by our Senate counterparts and was a key element in breaking the five-month stalemate. 

I remind readers that local governments are generally overly reliant on property taxes to fund their share of K-12 education. Local property taxes keep Virginia in the middle of the pack nationwide in per pupil spending, but the commonwealth ranks as low as 40th in the country for its state contribution. For many localities, the local share is higher than the state share, or is difficult to match with their property tax revenues. 

In summary, this budget deal includes about $590 million more in education funding than the Governor’s budget and $900 million more than the budget approved last summer. But we are not finished. Funding public education and teacher pay will be front and center in the 2024 General Assembly session. We have made historic investments but there is clearly more work left to be done. To that end, let’s hope that Virginia finally has the revenue to address our 21st Century education needs and continues to prioritize our students over big corporations.

The commonwealth needs to up its game. Now, we may have the resources to do so.

Del. Mark Sickles was a conferee on the recently passed budget amendments. He represents the 43rd District in Fairfax County.

Mark Sickles represents part of Fairfax County in the House of Delegates. He is a Democrat.