His thoughts — Budget work continues

Published 12:00 pm Friday, March 25, 2022

Setting Virginia’s budget for the next two years is the primary responsibility of the General Assembly, and I’m disappointed to say that we did not get that work accomplished in our constitutionally allotted 60-day window.

House Republicans came to Richmond to get this work done. It should have been easy. Virginia’s finances are flush with cash, and there’s broad agreement on things that need to be in our budget – raises for teachers, more money for schools and law enforcement. But Democrats in the Senate decided to drag the process out and end the session with no budget rather than send significant money back to Virginians in the form of tax relief.

The House version of the budget – which the Senate has rejected – contained $5 billion in tax relief that Virginians need and deserve, including tax rebates of up to $300 for every tax filer and up to $600 for couples. We ended the grocery tax and doubled the standard income tax deduction to put more money back in your paycheck. We also exempted the first $40,000 in veteran retirement benefits from income taxes.

Governor Youngkin will call us back to Richmond soon to finish this work in the form of a special session, but rest assured, we will not stop fighting for this important tax relief.

TAXES

America is in crisis. With inflation reaching record levels and gas prices soaring, Virginians are struggling every day to get to school and work, and to buy groceries and other essentials their families need.

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Administration projects that Virginia’s surplus during the next budget cycle will reach $13.4 billion. House Republicans are working to return over $5 billion to Virginia taxpayers in the form of tax relief. Virginians work hard, and they deserve to keep more of the money that they’ve earned.

Unfortunately, Democrats don’t see it that way. Even despite the economic hardship Virginians are facing at the hands of bad Democratic policymaking, they argued against the House Republican Majority’s tax relief plan in the House of Delegates. We advanced and I supported several bills during this General Assembly session that give Virginians much-needed tax relief, but the Democratic-controlled Senate refused to budge.

For example, I Co-Patroned HB 90, and joined House Republicans in the fight to eliminate Virginia’s grocery tax. With HB 935, we worked to offer individual filers a tax rebate of up to $300 and joint filers a tax rebate of up to $600. We supported a temporary suspension of gas tax hikes in the Commonwealth with HB 1144, a measure Democrats blocked while disingenuously calling on the Governor to provide reprieve from soaring gas-prices. And we made efforts to double the standard deduction for Virginia tax filers with HB 472.

HB 1301 would end Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a tax parading as a “free market solution.” Virginia needs real solutions. Not more taxes.

HB 118 rolls back the so-called Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), a “green” measure that makes life a lot more expensive for Virginians (just as gas prices are skyrocketing). Virginia needs to embrace an all-of-the-above approach to energy, both as a savings measure and as a national security measure. The VCEA costs the average Virginia family more than $800 each year in energy costs. That’s a price many Virginians, including our most vulnerable, can’t afford to pay. I believe that when Virginians do well, Virginia does well, and I won’t stop fighting to make sure that Virginians are in control of how their hard-earned money is spent.

EDUCATION

What happens in Virginia’s schools determines Virginia’s future, and we owe it to parents and students to make certain students are getting a top-notch education in a safe and secure environment.

That’s why education was such a huge part of the House Republican agenda during the 2022 legislative session, and we made significant strides toward restoring parental rights, protecting students, revitalizing schools, and making certain Virginia schools are the strongest in the nation.

We set the tone for the national conversation about parental rights and masks in schools by passing SB 739 and putting decisions about whether students wear masks at school back in the hands of their parents.

Republicans were also successful in restoring race-blind admissions to our Governor’s Schools around the Commonwealth. Despite recent events in Fairfax County, it will soon be illegal to discriminate against any child for admission based on their race, gender, or other characteristics. Merit and merit alone should determine who gets into our best schools.

We also made certain that parents know what their students are learning by passing SB 656, legislation that will ensure parents are notified when students are assigned explicit materials and requires them to be assigned alternate materials if parents object.

Republicans also supported HB 346, legislation that expands opportunities for learning by setting aside funds for laboratory schools in conjunction with Virginia’s universities.

Finally, we’ve made changes to the law that will ensure students have the safest possible learning environment. I Co-Patroned HB 4 that will reinstate the requirement that school officials report certain violent, sexual, or other egregious misdemeanor crimes to law enforcement and to parents. We also passed SB 649, which requires that schools are notified when one of their students is arrested for certain serious offenses. These provisions are common-sense ways to keep our students safe and our parents and school officials in the know.

Further, we were successful in beginning the process of placing resource officers in every Virginia school. HB 873 requires that every local law enforcement agency – if their local schools don’t have resource officers – to train and designate at least one officer to serve as the liaison to schools, effectively creating a ‘resource officer on call’ for those districts that may not be able to afford them at this time.

The version of the budget that the House passed also includes well-deserved pay increases for Virginia teachers, including a 4% raise and a 1% bonus during each year of the biennium. Unfortunately, with Democrats stalling on the budget, that raise has yet to go into effect.

AGRICULTURE/CONSERVATION

Farmers are constantly on the receiving end of complaints about water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, as more urban areas seek to regulate how our farms operate. It’s not fair to ask farms to bear the costs of cleaning up the Bay on their own. That’s why our budget fully funds the Best Management Practices program with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This budget puts more money toward helping farmers pay to keep cattle out of streams and other best practices than any budget in recent history.

House Republicans believe that we can move Virginia toward a more sustainable future by empowering innovators, embracing free-market solutions (that don’t put the burden on the shoulders of taxpayers), and by supporting policies that make Virginia a hub for clean energy industries and jobs. The House budget also includes, for instance, $5 million for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to develop a Wind Industry Supply Chain Grant Fund to support recruitment of a supply chain industry to Virginia for the offshore wind industry.

As the delegate representing the constituents of the 61st House District, I hold your concerns as my highest priority.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@House.Virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.