Virginia’s Capitol became the epicenter of American political life this week. Because of a bizarre and unexpected series of events, the entire national press corps has descended upon Capitol Square.
With just two weeks remaining in the General Assembly session, we can’t afford to become wrapped up in the latest development or revelation. We are, by necessity, concentrating our energies on reviewing the hundreds of remaining bills still under consideration, presenting our own bills to our House colleagues. I have had a laser beam focus as a co-patron of the tax bill on crafting a budget that includes $1 billion in tax relief for Virginia taxpayers. That focus was essential this last week, as we completed crossover and passed our package of amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget.
Crossover is the legislative half-way point of every General Assembly session. From here on out, senators will be reviewing bills passed by the House while delegates consider bills passed by the Senate. Both chambers passed out a lot of bills this year, especially for a short session.
The Senate is currently working on over 600 bills approved by our counterparts in the House. Delegates have it a little easier, as they are considering fewer than 500 bills passed by senators.
On Thursday, the Senate unanimously approved its plan to amend the state’s budget. The package of amendments makes substantial changes to the budget enacted less than eight months ago. Like the tax plan I detailed in last week’s column, our budget includes a $110 tax rebate this year for Virginians who pay personal income taxes and $220 for couples. It also increases the standard deduction by 50% for 2019, the largest increase for taxpayers ever.
Placing a priority on strengthening our public schools, the Senate approved the funds necessary to cover the state share of expenses for a 5% raise in teacher pay. It included $4 million in additional funding for our successful Workforce Credential Grants, which are making it possible for thousands of Virginians to become certified in high-demand, high-paying fields.
We added over $25 million in additional funding for behavioral health and reserved $70 million for the Literary Fund to provide support for school construction. And, we put $15 million more to accelerate the availability of broadband in rural areas.
These improvements are made possible because we are prioritizing spending that will improve the quality of life for people in every corner of the state. We’re producing a conservative, balanced budget that will protect our AAA bond rating, invest in our future, and provide working families with nearly $1 billion in tax relief.
Considering the budget was approved by all 40 senators, our efforts earned strong bipartisan support. So at a time when news headlines might lead you to believe partisan strife is everywhere, we successfully crafted a plan that unified members of both parties.
I filed several of those nearly 500 bills we approved to send over to the House. In addition to the school safety bills I am carrying, my bill to establish an energy career cluster in the Department of Education, in consultation with representatives from industries such as renewable energy, natural gas, nuclear energy, coal, and oil, will prepare students for entering careers in these high demand fields. I am patroning several bills related to improving health care for all Virginians and I have focused a great deal of my time on crafting the tax relief bill. I will have more details next week.
Richmond enjoyed daily highs in the sixty-degree range for most of the week. Good weather usually boosts the number of visitors to Capitol Square, and our office had a lot of visitors from home this week. We welcomed a huge contingent of supporters here for the pro-life rally. We also met with Moms Demand Action, the Virginia Wing Civil Air Patrol, and officials with the Lynchburg Regional Airport. It is impossible to list everyone, but we appreciate seeing each visitor.
With just two weeks remaining, there’s a lot of work to finish before we can adjourn on February 23. If you want to contact us about an issue or legislation being considered, please send us an email at District23@senate.virginia.gov or call us at (804) 698-7523.
Although you’ll have to rely on the news media, both local and national, to fill you in on the latest developments for our three statewide officials, I’ll provide more information on our continued legislative progress in next week’s column. Until then, have a great week.