Virginia legislators’ budget proposal includes grocery tax elimination, raises for teachers and I-64 widening project funds

·3 min read

After months of negotiations, Virginia legislators tasked with compromising on a two-year state budget proposal reached an agreement.

“We got a budget, we are done, we finalized it this afternoon,” Del. Barry Knight, a member of the budget conference committee, said Thursday night. “Neither the Senate nor the House got everything they wanted, but we got a real good budget for Virginia.”

The final proposal would eliminate the state’s 1.5% grocery tax, provide teachers and state employees with a 5% raise each year — as well as a one-time $1,000 bonus — and increase the standard state tax deduction from $4,500 to $8,000 for individuals and from $9,000 to $16,000 for joint filers, the Virginia Beach Republican said.

The revised budget also will continue funding the Interstate 64 widening project, as well as $3.3 billion for capital projects at 12 state agencies and eight universities, including the construction of a dining facility at Norfolk State University, Knight said.

And there’s something new for older military veterans: A $40,000 tax exemption for pensions of veterans who are 55 and older, which will be phased in over a four-year period, Knight said.

“Typically when you get to 55 and older we don’t have to educate your kids, which is about half of a locality’s budget, so we’re giving them less taxes, but they won’t typically need as many services,” he said.

One item that didn’t make the cut: $10 million to create the Virginia Mass Violence Care Fund, which would have helped survivors of mass violence with long-term physical and mental health needs not covered by their insurance, Knight said.

The budget, however, does include $77,000 to allow a state commission to continue investigating the May 31, 2019, mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, Knight said.

The General Assembly will return Wednesday to Richmond to vote on the proposal, which will then go to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for his approval. All legislators must be given 48 hours to review the budget before voting. Knight said it will likely be placed online by Sunday night.

Portsmouth Democrat Louise Lucas, another member of the budget conference committee, celebrated the agreement.

“We have a compromise and we broadly preserved Governor Northam’s budget for record investments in Virginia while making our tax code more progressive and friendly for working families,” she tweeted Thursday night. “Senate Democrats worked with House Republicans and delivered for YOU!”

The House and state Senate’s proposed budgets were nearly $3 billion apart at the end of the legislative session in March — mainly due to differences over tax relief, with Youngkin and the GOP-controlled House favoring more extensive cuts. The two proposals then went into a conference committee, which are formed to resolve differences.

Youngkin had pushed the committee to reach an agreement and even released a TV commercial in March calling on state lawmakers to finish the budget.

“We took our time; we were in no rush and we wanted to get it right,” said Knight. “Some folks thought we should have had it done earlier but the Senate is controlled by Democrats and the House is controlled by Republicans — we had to compromise on everything.”

Katie King, katieking@virginiamedia.com, 757-835-1487