Thursday, July 25, 2024

Virginia General Assembly Adjourns with Proposed Budget, Looming Question over Stadium Deal

The Virginia House of Delegates claps on the last day of the 2024 legislative session. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — The 2024 General Assembly session came to a close Saturday on time, with the Democratic majority in both chambers sending the legislature’s budget and final bills to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who now has a month to decide what actions to take on them and whether he might take further steps to keep alive a deal to bring the Washington Wizards and Capitals to Northern Virginia.

The legislature passed its budget proposal by a margin of 62-37 in the House of Delegates and 24-14 in the Senate.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, in a press conference held by the caucus after adjournment. “We’ve shown we can govern as a Democratic majority and stand as a counter to what Governor Youngkin is proposing.”

But Republicans, who lost majority control of the House in the November elections, said the session showed Democrats are out of touch with reality, preoccupied with “checking boxes for their friends the radical environmentalists, the trial lawyers, the labor unions.”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said at a press conference earlier in the day. “I would submit to you that my friends on the other side have laid down quite a few extra miles of pavement in that regard.”

Not happening Saturday was any further action on the arena deal. The proposal is expected to bring jobs and revenue to the state, but bills to create a state authority to issue bonds needed for the deal were never heard by the Senate, where Finance and Appropriations Chair Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, has opposed it. Nor did the General Assembly include the proposal in its budget.

Youngkin now has the option of sending down an amendment to the budget to include the arena proposal, but the legislature will have to approve that change when it reconvenes April 17 to finalize the state’s spending plan and consider any other amendments or vetoes to other bills.

No discussion on the arena deal could happen before then, said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, but the governor could call a special session to consider the arena proposal, a possibility she didn’t rule out entirely.

“We’ll see,” said Locke. “Anything can happen.”

Democrats’ decision to exclude the arena from the budget the General Assembly approved Saturday is also expected to influence what happens with the bills the legislature sent to Youngkin that are still awaiting his review. On Friday, Youngkin approved 64 bills the General Assembly fast-tracked to him but vetoed eight and amended 12.

The General Assembly took no action Saturday on either the vetoes or the amendments. The legislature can override vetoes with a two-thirds majority, but with Democrats holding a narrow 51-49 edge over the GOP, they are unlikely to be able to muster the votes to do so.

Nevertheless, said Surovell, “he needs to be really careful about what he chooses to veto. If he wants to set a tone for the next 18 days that it’s going to be full on he’s going to veto anything that comes over to him that happens to be a priority of ours, then he’s gonna have a long last 18 months of his session.”

In their press conference, Democrats touted a new tax on digital goods and services they included in the budget, as well as new funding for higher education.

“Higher education is extremely important for us,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Luke Torian, D-Prince William. “If we’re going to have a strong workforce, we need to support our colleges and universities, and that is what this budget did.”

During debates on the budget in the House Saturday, Republicans took issue with both those priorities.

“I can’t wait to go back and tell the plumbers and the carpenters and the other tradesmen and women in my district, ‘Good news, I took money from you and I gave it to universities that are already sitting on hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars worth of endowments, so that they can come down here and effectively lobby for more of your money,” said Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper.

Youngkin, in a statement issued after adjournment, thanked the General Assembly and its staff for its work.

“The General Assembly sent me more than a thousand bills plus backward budgets that need a lot of work,” he said. “We’re going to have a busy 30 days going into the reconvene session.”

Mercury reporter Nathaniel Cline contributed to this story.

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