Two amended versions of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget bill advanced through their first committees in the Virginia House and Senate on Friday, with some concerns expressed by Republican lawmakers.
Both versions include additional funding for broadband expansion, assistance for renters and tenants, money for education and allocations to pay for the criminal justice and policing reform bills advancing through the General Assembly.
A lot of initiatives the Virginia Legislature sought to include in the budget before the COVID-19 pandemic still are unfunded, such as pay raises for teachers and state employees, but will be reconsidered in January and adopted if revenue projections allow.
“We entered this Special Session with the mandate to balance a budget facing significantly reduced revenues while funding new policies that will make Virginia a safer, healthier, and more just Commonwealth,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Dumfries, said in a joint statement.
“This budget introduced by the House (on Friday) meets our goals,” the statement read. “… We were proud of the historic budget we passed earlier this year. Unfortunately, the economic crisis requires us to defer many of the initiatives we adopted last March. We will be back in session in January with a formal forecast and the opportunity to make further strides toward achieving this majority’s priorities.”
The chambers’ budgets differ on how to allocate federal COVID-19 relief from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The House version establishes stricter requirements for how the federal funding will be allocated. The Senate version would grant greater discretion to Gov. Ralph Northam.
The Senate version includes a guaranteed $500 bonus for police that would cost about $18.4 billion. Although the House version does not include any guaranteed bonuses, it includes a potential $1,500 bonus for all state employees contingent on the state generating enough revenue.
Republicans in both chambers objected to the budgets funding some of the criminal justice and policing reform bills, many of which were passed with Democratic support and Republican opposition.
During Friday’s committee hearing, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said criminal justice reform became too much of a focus during a special session that should have focused on prioritizing budget allocations amid the revenue shortfalls.
Sen. Steve Newman, R-Forest, told The Center Square many of the criminal justice reform bills passed along party lines and he voted against many of them. He does not support them being funded in the budget bill.
Newman said there are other problems with the bills, such as language he said could prevent landlords from initiating the process of evicting tenants. This language also drew concern from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who said the language needs some work.
Budget proposals often end up in joint conference committees, with delegates and senators working out the differences. During Friday’s hearing, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairperson Janet Howell, D-Reston, said this is just the beginning of a long process.
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