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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Virginia Legislature Will Consider Reworked State Budget in May 13 Special Session

Gov. Glenn Youngkin was joined by Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers in the Capitol’s rotunda on April 17. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin and lawmakers have agreed to work together on the biennium budget, after clashing for weeks over two distinctly different spending plans.

A special session will be held on May 13, Youngkin and lawmakers in both chambers announced Wednesday, to consider the revamped budget and prevent a shutdown ahead of July 1, when the current budget expires.

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates voted to reject all 233 of the governor’s amendments to the budget, and agreed to seek a new budget to present to the legislature May 13, with voting on it expected May 15. They also took up the governor’s other bill amendments and 153 vetoes.

The House accepted all Youngkin’s vetoes, including bills that would have raised the minimum wage, created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to cap drug prices, protected people who come to Virginia for reproductive health care from extradition and prohibited assault firearms in public places.

The bill amendments up for debate included: changes to legislation that would legalize skill machines, which was rejected by the Senate; a measure that would lower the amounts Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company can recover from customers for their pre-construction costs of a small modular reactor, which was adopted in their respective chambers; and another that would require school boards to notify gun-owning parents annually of their responsibility to safely store firearms to keep them away from their children, which was also rejected by the delegates.

It’s not clear what will happen to the language the legislature included in its budget that would’ve ordered the state to rejoin the carbon market known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, that incentivizes electricity producers to emit less carbon by making them purchase allowances to do so.

Youngkin — who passed a regulation that withdrew Virginia from RGGI despite RGGI supporters saying a legislative change was needed — has opposed participation in RGGI, while calling the fee for the allowances that utilities can recover from ratepayers  a “hidden tax.” The regulation withdrawal is being challenged in court.

The budget delay also creates uncertainty for local governments trying to estimate how much funding schools will receive and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, which is seeking additional funding from the state to bridge its $750 million shortfall.

Before Wednesday’s veto session, the governor tried compromising on the budget with lawmakers by removing all tax increases they had approved — including the digital service sales tax he initially proposed — but also dropping the tax cuts he requested in December.

In the Capitol’s rotunda with Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers Wednesday afternoon, Youngkin said all parties are close to a budget agreement after meeting over the last few days.

“We believe this is a good path forward for the commonwealth,” Youngkin told reporters. “It reflects the work that has been done from the General Assembly and from the governor’s office.”

He added that no decisions have been made yet on the specifics of the budget, including tax increases, but he looks forward to meeting with leaders.

“This was a collective decision, and you will see from the vote this morning that it is unanimous amongst all of us to press forward in this fashion,” Youngkin said.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Luke Torian, D-Prince William, added, “We agreed that there is nothing that’s off the table. Everything will be up for discussion and deliberations. No decisions have been made at this point.”

Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, told a reporter that they were “absolutely correct” that envisioning the governor, Democrats and Republicans standing together in the rotunda two months ago was unlikely to happen when there were different budget priorities on both sides, including Youngkin’s arena proposal to bring two professional sports teams to Northern Virginia and the Democratic-controlled legislature’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow retail cannabis sales in the state.

“But I think what’s changed is that there has been a lot of collaboration,” Lucas said. ”I think nothing helps the process more than everybody getting together, sitting around the table and talking about what we can all do to help Virginia. I think we all had different ways we thought we were going to get there, but I think now we are going to work together towards something that will keep the temperature down a little bit.”

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, who, along with Lucas, met with the governor earlier this week, said he is optimistic about the process moving forward.

“That’s how you come to a resolution,” McDougle said. “Everybody’s got to come to the table and talk and be heard and once you do that you can find solutions.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Samantha Willis for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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