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Virginia House and Senate pass, Youngkin signs budget in special session

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, flanked by a bipartisan mix of legislators, signed the 2024-25 budget.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, flanked by a bipartisan mix of legislators, signed the 2024-25 budget.

Virginia’s legislature returned to Richmond Monday for a special budget session. The 140 member body successfully passed, and Governor Glenn Youngkin signed the two-year, $188 billion dollar spending map with both sides claiming it a win.

The governor and leadership in the House and Senate came together for what they said were joint priorities in education, healthcare, transportation and public safety funding.

“We in fact listened to one another, understood each other's priorities and perspectives, and that came together in this budget we’ll sign today,” Youngkin said before ceremonially signing the package of bills.

According to Democratic House Speaker Don Scott, Youngkin, a Republican, could have just approved the bill he and legislative Democrats approved two months ago.

“Everything we voted on in March is still in this budget, the other difference is the Governor is going to sign,” Scott said.

Like March’s effort, the budget signed Monday includes 3% raises for teachers and state employees in each of the next two years, “record investments” in K-12 and higher education, and healthcare and mental health funding increases. There's also toll relief for those who make less than $50,000 a year in the 757 region.

Noticeably absent, however, was a new digital sales tax proposed by Democrats. Delegate Mark Sickles, one of the budget conferees, said the Commonwealth’s economy continues to produce revenues that weren’t expected, and the totals, including about $500 million in new revenues, as well as funds reserved from bills Youngkin vetoed, were used to close the about $1 billion gap.

Senator Craig Deeds was not thrilled at the idea of leaving new taxes out of the budget.

“We have to be realistic about our long term needs,” Deeds warned, noting a tax policy committee will study changes to the tax code before the 2025 session.

“We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to pay for things in the long haul,” he said, pointing at increased demands in education and healthcare that will require new and recurring spending.

“It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got tough choices to make,” he said.

But Delegate Luke Torian, the leading Democrat on the House budget committee, said Youngkin had no interest in signing a bill with new taxes. And, absent new revenue, he was glad the legislature was able to meet what he said were their top priorities.

“You always know there's an ebb and flow in the economy. We’re responding to what we’ve been given,” Torian said. “We make adjustments when necessary.”

Republican Delegate Will Moorefield praised the budget as a unity document, including funds for I-81 and education funding to attract more teachers. That education funding is particularly important considering he said his Tazewell-area district was losing teachers to other states.

And, considering the party makeup of the legislature with Youngkin in charge, both sides needed to give and take.

“With a divided government compromise is the right solution and overall the budget will be extremely good for Southwest Virginia,” Moorfield said.

Delegate Terry Austin, the ranking Republican on the House budget committee, was similarly pleased with the final budget.

“Everyone’s on board,” he said after a short presentation on the spending document. “It's a good day for the Commonwealth.”

Austin also said he was happy to review the state’s tax structure at Torian’s request ahead of the next session.

Republican Senator Mark Peake was among those who argued the budget was more moderate than Scott claimed. He pointed to raises for law enforcement, and increases in deputy pay, as well as no requirement for the state to return to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or the multi-state election monitoring program called ERIC.

“Whatever Scott wants to say, as long as it makes him feel good,” Peake quipped.

Instead of RGGI, millions have been allocated to support climate resilience and flood preparedness across the state. Moorfield said families in his Southwest district that benefited from RGGI, including coverage for flood damage, can expect to see continued support with the hope of the state coming up with an alternative to RGGI.

“Right now we’ve got to deal with what’s at hand,” Morefield said. “This will give everyone a chance in the off season to focus specifically on issues like RGGI and those programs to get a better idea of how we can approach things during the next session.”

From the Senate floor, President pro tempore Louise Lucas said she knew members of her party weren’t pleased with the lack of RGGI language, but “progress can take time and sometimes compromise.”

The bills passed with near unanimity in both chambers before Governor Youngkin signed the document shortly after.

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

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.