The General Assembly convened this past Friday, June 16th to consider the Governor’s amendments to the state budget. There were 35 total amendments, 24 of which passed out of the General Assembly. As Vice Chairman of Appropriations, I am proud of the $150 billion budget crafted over these past few months. What remains in the final budget includes significant tax relief, support for our veterans, substantial raises for our law enforcement and teachers, historic funding for school construction and modernization, and funding for lab schools.
The new biennial budget will take effect July 1st and, with a split-majority General Assembly, was a product of compromise. As mentioned previously, the main sticking point was tax relief. I am happy to report that Republicans held firm on our desire to return money to taxpayers. As inflation continues to make noticeable impacts on the cost of living, this budget provides nearly $4 billion in tax relief. It includes a tax relief check of $250 for individuals and $500 for couples, increases the standard deduction nearly 100 percent to $8,000 for individuals and $16,000 for joint filers, and repeals the 1.5 percent state sales tax on food and personal hygiene products. Veterans aged 55 or older will receive an income tax subtraction of $10,000 in tax year 2022 and $20,000 in tax year 2023. This budget also protects Virginia’s small businesses from incurring additional costs by replenishing the unemployment trust fund and ending the accelerated sales tax practice. During Session I presented the Governor’s gas tax holiday proposal, which sought to pause the collection of gas and diesel taxes for three months. It passed out of the House but did not make it out of the Senate.
The budget contains record investments in K-12 and higher education. Teachers and state supported staff will receive a 5 percent raise in each of the next two years, and more than $3 billion in new, direct aid has been appropriated for the public school system. Within that amount, $1.25 billion will be used to support over $3 billion for school construction projects. Many of Virginia’s school buildings were constructed 50 years ago, and this appropriation will begin the process of addressing necessary repairs and improvements, especially in rural Virginia. The Governor’s initiative to expand lab schools throughout the Commonwealth will provide increased opportunity for students to participate in programs that will prepare them for professional careers. The budget also provides $45 million for the School Resource Officer Incentive Program to ensure that our students are learning in a safe and secure environment. Higher education has been provided the necessary resources so that these institutions can freeze tuition increases.
The Republican House majority continues to prioritize our commitment to the brave men and women who protect our communities daily. Sworn deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers starting salaries have been increased to $42,000 and pay compression for senior members has also been addressed. Our State Police and Department of Correction Officers will also receive an increase in starting salary and pay compression adjustments. $75 million in ARPA funds have been appropriated for one-time grants to local law enforcement agencies to support equipment purchases and training. Finally, this budget funds the Project Ceasefire program which has been proven in other cities to reduce gang and firearm related violence in our urban areas.
As your Delegate it is my responsibility to represent your interests, especially during budget negotiations. I am pleased to report that there are several appropriations that will have a direct and positive impact on the 19th House District, as well as Craig County and Rockbridge County, which will be a part of this District next year under the new redistricting maps. These include $6 million for the construction of the Fincastle Museum, funding to complete renovations of the historic Green Pastures Park in Alleghany, language that creates a funding stream to support the Lexington Horse Center’s operations in Rockbridge, debt relief for Natural Bridge State Park, a funding source that can be used to construct the Craig Valley Trail, and language for Lewis & Clark Legacy Trail historical markers to be posted along this famous trail. These appropriations will help promote our region’s uniquely rich history and legacy, and I am proud to have advocated for them.
With work on the budget complete, the House will return to Richmond on September 7th to consider bills that are still in conference from the 2022 Regular Session. In the meantime, if my office can be of assistance to you and your family, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at DelTAustin@House.Virginia.gov.