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Despite Economic Concerns Related to COVID-19, Lawmakers Pass Budget

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Steve Helber
/
AP

 

 

Lawmakers in Richmond gaveled out Thursday on what’s been a historic legislative session. It was the first time Democrats were in charge of the process since the early 1990’s. The final item on their to do list was to pass the state’s two year budget. 

“(The budget) guards Virginia’s triple-A bond rating, while advancing equity of opportunity across the Commonwealth,” Said Delegate Luke Torian, chairman of House Appropriations. “In these ways it meets our goals for the people of Virginia.” 

Republicans in the House warned the increase in spending will be difficult to maintain if there’s an economic downturn in Virginia. Similar concerns were echoed in the Senate, specifically tied to the recent spread of the novel coronavirus. 

A handful of Republicans in the Senate urged caution, requesting the legislature wait a week before they pass the budget. Speaking on the Senate floor, Republican Steve Newman says there’s been a dramatic shift in the economy since lawmakers finalized the budget this past weekend. 

“I'm concerned today for Virginia, I’m concerned about tourism, travel, retail and manufacturing,” said Newman. 

The budget is built on projections of future tax collections, that some fear may not materialize. But Democratic Senator Janet Howell says Virginia’s prepared to weather the storm with its almost $2 billion of reserves. 

“I think we need to be steady and firm at this point. And so passing the budgets will convey that message,” Howell said. 

Ultimately lawmakers agreed to the spending package. It includes raises for teachers, an increase in the gas tax, and dental coverage for low-income Virginians. 

The budget now goes to Governor Ralph Northam. 

Here are some other details from the compromised two-year budget: 

  • A 3-percent raise for state and higher education employees, a 5-percent raise for state police, a 4-percent raise for K-12 teachers 

  • Funding for state agencies and universities to afford the increase in minimum wage for their lowest paid staff 

  • Full funding for universities’ six-year plans without them having to raise tuition 

  • Additional financial aid for in-state low-income undergraduates, and funding for tuition assistance for qualified community college students 

  • Funding for more guidance counselors and ESL teachers in K-12 

  • Education grants and aid to the Black History Museum, the American Civil War Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 

  • Expanding Medicaid benefits to include: dental coverage, home visits for pregnant women, and coverage to women post partum for a year 

  • An increase in the gas tax, cigarette tax, and permission for localities to raise other taxes 

 
This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.
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