This week’s newsletter discusses the recent Special Session of the General Assembly and passage of the state budget, shares information on an upcoming housing forum, and highlights select community events and meetings from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
Special Session: The Commonwealth’s Budget
On Wednesday, September 6, members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates convened in the Capitol to discuss and vote on the budget bill: SB 6001 / HB 6001. The budget bill was the final product of several months of negotiation between the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House.
Following long-established procedures, members of the two Chambers can cast only an “up or down” vote which means that they cannot vote for certain parts of the budget bill while rejecting other parts. Similarly, according to the procedural resolution – as typically agreed to in both Chambers – introduction of amendments is not permitted, in acknowledgement of the work already completed by the conferees on the budget bill. With these two important procedural guidelines in mind, SB 6001 / HB 6001 passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support.
Budget Items I Introduced
Five of my budget amendments were included in the final compromised budget, including $2.5 million allocated to the Science Museum of Virginia to demolish the Workers’ Compensation Building, as part of the urban greening project dubbed “The Green.” Upon completion of the project, at least 20 acres of green space will extend along the entire stretch of Broad Street from Terminal Place to DMV Drive and beyond.
Also included in the budget bill was my amendment to increase the Auxiliary Grant Rate for assisted living facilities (ALFs) from $1,609 to $2,055 per month. Although my amendment, as proposed by the Joint Commission on Health Care, sought to increase the rate to $2,500/month, this compromise moves us closer to supporting the needs of individuals in ALFs. We were also able to protect monies allocated for language access across state agencies; this funding had been previously approved in the budget but never distributed.
Senate Democrats held ground during budget negotiations and insisted that we make historic investments in our massively underfunded K-12 public education system. For well over a decade, we’ve known that our schools have been underfunded, but the case was made even more stark and clear by the recently-released Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study published earlier this year. In an effort to bring teacher pay to levels competitive with our neighboring states, we have also increased salaries by 12%: a 5% increase last July that was followed by a 5% increase this fiscal year, plus an additional 2% increase as outlined in the Senate budget. Competitive salaries help us to attract and retain excellent educators; the critical shortages we are seeing in the profession have placed a tremendous burden on many of our school districts, and our children’s educational experiences have been affected. The budget also begins the work of lifting the cap on school support staff, helping to increase the numbers of counselors, teaching assistants, and other critical personnel who ensure that children and teachers have safety and support in school. This cap was placed during the 2008 Great Recession, and restoration of funding has been sorely needed.
Over the past several years, our healthcare systems have been under considerable and increasing strain because of workforce shortages, capacity that does not match need, and physical and mental health crises. This budget now invests over $15 million into nursing and other healthcare training programs at our higher education institutions in an effort to address workforce shortages. The budget also makes critical investments in mental health: $68 million to fund crisis receiving centers, stabilization units, and mobile units in underserved areas; $10 million for a comprehensive psychiatric emergency program; and $4.2 million for K-12 mental health programs. Emphasis was made on ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities continue to have access to critical healthcare services by investing $38 million to assist the Department of Medical Assistant Services (DMAS) and the Department of Social Services (DSS) with the effects of Medicaid Unwinding. The budget also increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for our providers by $37 million.
Senate Democrats were also able to remove the Governor and House’s harmful language that would have restricted Medicaid-eligible patients' access to abortion in those traumatic cases when severe and fatal fetal anomalies have been diagnosed such as anencephaly, in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.
Virginia’s sales tax holiday, traditionally held before the start of the school year, will occur this year during the weekend of October 20 - 22, pending the Governor’s approval of the budget. Additionally, single filers will receive a $200 one-time tax rebate, while joint filers will receive a $400 one-time tax rebate. Rather than commit to permanent and massive tax cuts for large corporations (a point of resistance by Republicans and which would have cost the Commonwealth billions of dollars), Democrats focused on the long-term health of Virginia’s economy, fiscal stability, and agreed to placing money directly into the pockets of Virginians.
Eliminated From the Final Budget
Although this budget includes necessary funding for education, services, and Virginia’s families, important funding was also cut in critical areas, including nearly $100 million to address the City of Richmond’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) problem; this project is estimated to cost nearly $1 billion to complete. I will be fighting hard to make sure that this funding is restored in the next biennium budget.
Now that this cycle of budget amendments has been completed, the full focus on the next budget begins. The Commonwealth’s budget operates on two-year cycles, and Governor Youngkin has his first opportunity to develop the full budget himself, rather than offer amendments to the budget crafted by his predecessor, Governor Northam.
It is often said that budgets reflect values. The budget compromises agreed to during Wednesday’s Special Session largely reflect the values of investing in education, workforce training and development, healthcare services, mental health, safer communities, and more. We will continue with these critical focal points in the next biennium budget.
Forum on Virginia’s Housing Crisis
Rising interest rates, limited housing stock, local zoning laws, rent increases, and looming evictions are just a few of the concerns I hear from constituents when it comes to housing and housing affordability. Next Tuesday, September 12, elected officials and candidates from across the Metro Richmond Area will convene for a Forum on Virginia’s Housing Crisis, co-sponsored by the Virginia Housing Alliance, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, and the Legal Aid Justice Center. The event is open to the public, but registration is required.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Monday morning, I joined the Hampton Democratic Committee for its Salute to Labor Unions Brunch to recognize and thank workers for their many contributions. Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Bobby Scott, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and many other leaders joined the event.
Later Monday afternoon, I attended Congressman Bobby Scott’s annual Labor Day Cookout where I was pleased to see many friends from across the Commonwealth gathered to celebrate labor and the progress we’ve made for working families.
On Tuesday evening, I joined the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee monthly meeting. CCDC members are working hard to maintain the Democratic majority in the Senate, to retake the majority in the House of Delegates, and to ensure the success of local candidates.
This week my team and I continued to inform voters about my vision for Senate District 15 and how critical this November’s election is for Virginia’s future. We’ve been knocking doors and meeting with voters at a variety of locations. Beginning September 22, voters will be able to cast their ballot in-person at their local registrar’s office.
Last night in Chesterfield County, candidates for the upcoming Board of Supervisors election joined in a public forum to introduce themselves and share their thoughts on relevant issues. Running for office is an incredible challenge at every level, and I thank these candidates for taking on the hard work of competitive elections and for their commitment to public service.
22 Years Later: Remembering September 11, 2001
Monday marks 22 years since the attacks of September 11, 2001. We mourn the lives lost, honor the sacrifices of first responders, and recommit ourselves to our mutual aspirations for peace and healing.
The Virginia War Memorial will be hosting The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Patriot Day Ceremony on Monday, September 11, to commemorate this tragic anniversary and to honor the lives of those we lost. AmeriCorps will also be hosting volunteer events across the country as a part of its September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Last week’s newsletter contained a serious typographical error, and I thank reader Steven S. for catching the mistake. In the section reflecting on Labor Day, the sentences should have read, “Although we have made progress, work still remains to ensure that Virginia is not only the best place to do business but also the best place for workers. The two are not incompatible goals.”
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