The following is from VA Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. For more information on the “inherently divisive concepts” report, see Appalling: Youngkin Administration Moves to Eliminate “Inherently Divisive Concepts” From Public Education; Dems Rip His “inherently divisive” “racist agenda,” “whitewashed history and fake news”.
We have completed another week of work in Capitol Square with all eyes now focusing on the proposed biennial budget. The Senate and House of Delegates have presented their respective versions of a two-year spending plan for the Commonwealth. There are stark differences in expendable funds as well as purposeful spending.
Both Chambers are proposing historic funding for K-12 education but come at this wearing different lenses. In an effort to attract and retain Virginia’s best teachers, the Senate proposed a larger pay raise plus a one-time bonus of $1,000 in appreciation of their dedication. We also acknowledge the need to add support positions at a higher rate than what the House of Delegates is proposing. Recognizing that many of our schools are desperately in need of repair and modernization, the Senate proposed a larger investment for school infrastructure revitalization while the HOD wants to put significant funds into lab schools.
The second point of budget contention concerns taxes. The Senate’s budget proposes modest tax cuts that will benefit working Virginians and still leave us with a projected $3 billion in extra revenues for long-overdue critical investments. The Senate is proposing a one-time, $1.2 billion tax rebate that returns $300 back to individual filers and $600 to joint filers. We also chose to keep the 1% local option of the grocery tax, so localities don’t lose necessary revenue for their portion of funding public education.
Developing a skilled workforce is essential for continued economic growth as well as individual achievement. Access and affordability to critical degrees and certifications were the underlying principles for infusing higher education spending. The Senate increases funding for G3 innovation grants for training credentials in high-demand fields. It allocates $14.2 million toward the Innovation Internship Fund that will help provide paid and credit-bearing internships with private employers. Furthermore, the Senate proposal increased the available funds for Tuition Assistance Grants.
Turning to drinking water and aging local infrastructure, we propose adding more than $250 million to the Water Quality Improvement Fund. We are also addressing combined sewer overflow issues by diverting $293 million in federal ARPA funds to fund much-needed repairs to our outdated sewage systems. The Senate also designated $50 million to the Department of Environmental Quality for localities to address stormwater drainage.
Behavioral health and mental health services are Senate priorities this session. Speaking frankly, the pandemic has created a mental health crisis and there are nowhere near enough providers to meet the need. We have proposed allocating $186 million for community-based behavioral health services. $88 million of that will be diverted to our Community Services Boards, which provide public behavioral health and developmental disability services across the Commonwealth. We have also included $44 million to establish crisis system centers, so law enforcement can take individuals in crisis to an appropriate location for necessary treatment from trained professionals.
Both chambers are gearing up to settle these budget differences in a conference committee, where we will have to find common ground before the anticipated end of this year’s session on March 12th. I have been appointed to that committee and will keep you updated on its progress.
Another point of contention in the capital city is the release of an interim report (which can be found here) on actions taken by the Department of Education to eliminate “inherently divisive concepts” from Virginia’s public schools. This report outlines the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s “findings” for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is pretty clear this exercise is meant to validate another campaign promise made to the Governor’s base. The accusations of widespread violations of “discriminatory and divisive concepts” needing an additional review of policies and practices around the state are chilling.
During these next two weeks, we will continue to work in our Richmond office. We plan to transition back to Northern Virginia with the final gavel on Sine Die. You may continue to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be safe and be well,
Senator Dick Saslaw