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New state budget being hammered out

With just over two weeks left in the 2020 legislative session, I’d like to take a moment to update you on the latest news from Richmond.

This week the House of Delegates has been working to set Virginia’s budget for the next two years. The budget-setting process is a rather long one and begins when the governor introduces his own budget plan in December to both the House and Senate. After that, either chamber can amend the budget as they see fit, then both bodies negotiate a final budget in a “conference committee.”

I was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee this year, my first time on this committee. We worked several long hours into the weekends to prepare. I personally want to thank the entire appropriations staff, Chairman Torian and Chairman Sickles for their hard work.

We have just finished debating amendments to the governor’s budget and passed the House’s version that will go to a conference committee. However, this was not without disagreement over spending, taxes and other policies. With the new majority, we saw several amendments that will lead to significant tax increases, excessive regulatory powers for state agencies and a spending rate (over 18%) that simply is not sustainable if our current economic boom begins to slow.

This budget does have a lot of fiscal responsibility and there were some amendments that would have led to greater fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, those amendments were either killed in committee or on the house floor with no debate.

The budget sent to the Senate contains increases in the cigarette tax, the gas tax and the sales tax for some central Virginia localities. It also does away with the Taxpayer Protection Fund, a Republican effort last year that provided a tax rebate to millions of Virginians.

I would like to commend the House for working together to continue several initiatives begun by Republicans in previous years. In particular, the budget includes the Republican initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to help keep education affordable and accessible. It also reverses a move by the governor to end the Tuition Assistance Grant program for students engaged in distance learning programs (this was significant for many private schools).

Overall, I think we have produced a fiscally sound budget. I also think it was keen to keep adding to the “Rainy Day Fund” and unappropriated balances given new legislation that has passed this year, the uncertainty of the economic forecast, the new restrictions and regulations we have placed on businesses and the excessive regulatory powers.

In addition to the budget, we continue to discuss an amendment that would amend Virginia’s Constitution to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The General Assembly passed the amendment in 2019 with significant support on both sides of the aisle. This means that if the amendment were to pass again this session, you would get to vote to ratify it in November.

House Democrats have committed to passing this amendment. However, since their deadline has passed, I am unaware on how they plan to proceed.

By withholding the legislation so that it would expire before we could vote on it, the Democratic leadership has given us only one vehicle left to approve this amendment, the Senate resolution, which was sent to committee February 20.

All of the Democratic leadership team voted for the amendment in 2019. Republicans voted for the amendment in good faith, with the assurance that it would pass again in 2020 regardless of who was in the majority.

I would like to assure you, however, that I remain committed to keeping our election process fair and impartial. I hope that we will be able to move forward with this amendment in the future to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia.

There is still significant employment and gun legislation in play. I also hope to somehow get more funding for our local sheriff departments before the budget is complete.

You can learn more about the status of our redistricting amendment here: http://lis. virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604. exe?201+sum+HB758

Likewise, if you’d like to track changes to our upcoming budget, you can use this link: https://budget.lis.virginia.gov/amendments/2020/1/

To find a complete list of bills that I have supported: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/ legp604.exe?201+mbr+H235

DEL. C. MATTHEW FARISS represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.