Virginia House, Senate budgets conflict on tax cuts
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates on Thursday passed competing budget bills, documents that lawmakers will have to meld into a compromise in the coming weeks before a spending plan goes to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The two bills outlining amendments to the two-year budget that runs through mid-2024 contain some similarities, including increased mental health funding and money for an extra 2% raise for public employees, in addition to the the 5% increase agreed to last year. But the Democrat-controlled Senate and GOP-controlled House are far apart on one key matter: whether to enact the additional $1 billion in tax cuts Youngkin is seeking.
The House version includes the governor’s call for changes that include a reduction to the corporate tax rate and to the top individual income tax rate, while the Senate’s does not.
“I’ll remind you that we negotiated $4 billion in tax relief when the budget was adopted just a few months ago. To go further at this time would be premature given the inflationary pressures our economy has been experiencing,” Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee co-chair Janet Howell said in a committee meeting earlier this week outlining that chamber’s bill.
Republican House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight said Thursday that with a $3.6 billion surplus over the two-year period, the state has plenty of cushion for the additional tax cuts. But he noted that adopting the House version is just a step toward the next round of negotiations.
“As you are all aware, this is a practice of give and take. ... The final product will be a compromise reflecting the priorities of both the House and the Senate and will benefit the entire state,” Knight said on the House floor.
Virginia operates on a two-year budget schedule, adopting the key framework in even-numbered years and making amendments in odd years.
Each chamber will now take up the other’s plans before the legislation is sent to a conference committee. Negotiators will hash out a compromise that will need to clear both chambers before going to Youngkin, who could also seek amendments.
“The governor looks forward to working with the House of Delegates and State Senate to reach a final budget with needed tax cuts, a transformation of the behavioral health system, and an investment in education that delivers for all Virginians,” said Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, in a statement.
Here is a look at points of agreement, differences and items of interest in the two chambers’ bills, which both passed Thursday with bipartisan support:
Youngkin’s administration and House Republicans said the tax cuts they are seeking — in particular their push to move the corporate tax rate from 6% to 5% — will help lure new businesses to Virginia and create jobs.
“This budget document will get Virginia back into the economic recruitment game,” House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore said in a statement.
Democrats say the plan is a giveaway to big businesses at the expense of core government services.
“This amended budget before us is nothing but a gift for corporations and their high-ranking executives,” House Democratic Leader Don Scott said on the floor Thursday. He argued that in seeking the cuts, Youngkin is trying to make a splash for his potential 2024 presidential bid.
Leaders of both chambers have promised schools will be made whole after a state error led them to expect more funding than they were set to receive. The two budgets go about it differently, however.
The Senate budget allocates $58.1 million in general fund money, while the House provides $4.9 million. Knight has also said there’s already enough extra sales tax revenue beyond what was expected to offset the discrepancy.
Both bills would increase spending on direct aid for school districts, but the Senate is proposing a larger sum, which has drawn praise from public school advocates.
The House budget is in line with the governor’s proposal to increase funding by $50 million for his lab schools initiative, a push to partner colleges with K-12 systems that he says will boost innovation. The Senate version would redirect lab school funding to public school districts.
Both chambers want to spend more money on fixing up sites primed for major manufacturing companies or other big employers.
A previous Associated Press review of public money invested in these so-called megasites around the state found little payoff so far. Advocates of boosting the spending say Virginia has lagged competitor states in making such an investment.
THE WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
Youngkin’s proposed budget amendments called for $500,000 in funding to support the evaluation of economic incentives for the potential relocation of the Washington Commanders to Virginia. The House budget contains that funding and similar language, while the Senate’s does not.
The team is currently weighing where to go after its lease at Maryland’s FedEx Field ends. The Commanders pushed last year for a measure that would have offered hefty tax incentives in order to help finance a potential new stadium. That effort fell apart amid variouscontroversies facing the team and its owner.