Opinion — Budget work continues

Published 11:10 am Thursday, April 7, 2022

When we adjourned Sine Die on March 12, there was a great deal of work left to be done. House Republicans were ready to stay and keep working on the budget and other important legislation that remained in conference. The House position on the budget remains the same as it was on March 12: tax relief for hard-pressed Virginia families is a priority.

Special Session convened Monday, April 4th. Conferees are still working on the budget, and we will return to Richmond to vote 48 hours after they have come to an agreement. Under Virginia law, the budget must be finalized at least 48 hours before July 1, when the budget goes into effect.

Governor Youngkin has sent legislation to the General Assembly to suspend the state gas tax for three months. That tax is just over 26.2 cents per gallon and 27 cents for diesel. The Governor’s proposal would suspend the state gas tax for May, June and July then phase it back in during August and September.

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Gas tax revenue has traditionally been deposited in the Commonwealth Transportation Fund with a portion of the Virginia sales and use tax. The Commonwealth Transportation Fund funds maintenance and construction projects and currently is seeing revenue well above what was forecasted. The office said the fund has $671.4 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal year 2022 and $457.6 million in fiscal year 2023.

Legislation that would potentially allow the building of a new football stadium in Loudoun County, as well as bills to address hazing are expected to come before the assembly this special session. Some notable bills include the following:

S.B. 451 would eliminate the state portion of the grocery tax by 1.5%, keep the 1% local option, and become effective on Jan. 1, 2023. The House bill, H.B. 90, would eliminate the state portion of the grocery tax and the local option and would become effective on July 1. Both bills would ensure funding for schools is held “harmless.” The House version also works to replace the revenue loss associated with the 1% local option sales and use tax.

A set of hazing bills were sent to conference over conflicting views about how to amend the Virginia Code to make any hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury a Class 5 felony. Legislation to establish anti-hazing protocols and policies at nonprofit private and public institutions of higher learning passed during the previous session. The second set of bills are awaiting the governor’s signature. The bills come after Adam Oakes, a Loudoun County teen, died last year during a fraternity pledge event.

The assembly may vote on legislation that would potentially allow for the construction of a football stadium in Loudoun County. The legislation went to conference after several amendments were proposed. Members sent the two bills, which look to provide the team $1 billion in tax revenue, to conference after both chambers rejected each other’s substitutions.

The legislation would convert the state’s existing baseball stadium authority — created in 1995 with the hopes of attracting a Major League Baseball team to Virginia — into an entity that could oversee the financing and construction of a new NFL stadium.

Senator Jill Vogel is carrying S.B. 652, which would require an applicant for an absentee ballot to provide the last four digits of social security number on their application, except when completing the application in person.

She is also carrying S.B. 743, which would allow former law enforcement officers with at least 10 years of experience, and who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or are disabled, to be issued a photo identification and badge.

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Irby has yet to be nominated for re-appointment after serving nearly eight years, but she could be nominated before her first term ends on Dec. 1. The House passed on nominating her on Jan. 24. The Senate nominated her but did not elect her.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will pay refunds to 2,769 vehicle owners because of an error in a formula for determining the highway user fee for owners of fuel-efficient vehicles that average at least 25 miles per gallon.

The fee, which the General Assembly created in 2020 as part of a transportation funding package, was designed to require owners of electric or fuel-efficient vehicles to compensate for paying less gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to help maintain and improve Virginia roadways.

Electric car owners pay a flat fee of $109 a year to reflect how much motor fuels taxes they hadn’t paid in a year, but the formula is more complicated for fuel-efficient vehicles, based primarily on their mileage per gallon.

If the DMV can’t determine a vehicle’s mileage, based on its identification number, it can use the average provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for cars or for trucks weighing “between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds.”

The DMV reviewed the state code and determined that the language ‘between’ should be inclusive of the endpoints, 6,000 and 10,000.

As a result, the DMV had used the EPA mileage estimates for cars instead of trucks, which increased the fee, based on the taxes that would have been paid compared with a vehicle with mileage of 23.7 miles per gallon.

The refunds will range from $5 to $40, depending on how many years the vehicles, an estimated 3,435 light trucks, were registered with the state. Vehicles can be registered for up to three years, but most are registered for one.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.