The Virginia House of Delegates struck down a trio of Republican proposals to revise the state budget bill and advanced Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget proposal to its third reading unamended.
Lawmakers are considering legislation on how the state should spend $4.3 billion in COVID-19 relief provided by the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. Democratic leaders in the House Appropriations Committee declined to consider any amendments during the committee process and Democrats quickly shut down all proposed amendments on the House floor late Tuesday afternoon.
The governor’s proposal in House Bill 7001 is expected to get a vote in the chamber this week without any changes provided by either side of the aisle.
“We wanted to participate in this process,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said before his substitute was voted down 53-43. He complained Democratic leaders crafted the bill in secret without consulting Republicans and failed to give them serious input in revising aspects of the bill. Delegates who spoke to substitutes or amendments were limited to just two minutes of speech.
Gilbert said his substitution would have provided more funding for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to prevent a future tax hike on businesses. The program, which is funded primarily through payroll taxes on businesses, was depleted during the COVID-19 pandemic because of higher unemployment rates, which forced the state to borrow money from the federal government. If the state does not offset all the losses, the fund will automatically recover the money through higher payroll tax rates on businesses based on the funding formula.
The governor’s proposal allocates $862 million worth of federal funds to the program to offset some of the losses, but Gilbert expressed concern that this would not be enough. A few months ago, the Virginia Employment Commission estimated it would cost about $1.3 billion to return the fund back to pre-COVID-19 levels. The National Association of Independent Business urged the state to allocate more federal money to the fund to ensure businesses will not be punished for the losses.
Gilbert’s substitution would have also granted parents more flexibility regarding education funding, would have provided bonuses to all police officers and would have funded Project Ceasefire, which is designed to reduce violent crime.
Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, proposed an amendment to fund scholarship programs, which would fund aspiring teachers who plan to return to their communities after higher education. The American Rescue Plan earmarks money for colleges and universities, but does not specify that any money would go to this.
Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, urged lawmakers to vote down the amendment and said the budget helps reverse past practices on limited resources. It includes $111 million in financial aid for colleges. McQuinn added Democratic leadership has provided more funds for higher education.
Another amendment from Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, was intended to reduce crime.
Both of these amendments were voted down 54-43. The legislation, as it was originally drafted, advanced to its third reading on a voice vote.
Senate Democrats did not consider any amendments Tuesday, but rather postponed discussion until Wednesday. Senate Democrats did not consider any amendments during the committee process.
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Original Author: Tyler Arnold, The Center Square
Original Location: Virginia House strikes down Republican budget amendments