(The Center Square) – The Virginia Senate and House have reached a compromise on the state budget, but a dispute over language addressing a potential redistricting constitutional amendment could delay the bill until after the November elections.
Virginia voters will decide the fate of an amendment that would establish a bipartisan redistricting commission via a referendum on the November ballot. Some lawmakers sought to include funding and enabling language for the amendment in the budget, which would be contingent on the amendment being approved by voters.
House Democrats, whose leadership has been opposed to the amendment, refused to include the language in the compromise deal.
House and Senate leadership spoke with Gov. Ralph Northam, who said he would pass down an amendment to the budget that includes this language if voters approve the ballot initiative, according to Senate leaders.
Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, criticized House Democratic leadership, saying this would delay the adoption of the budget for more than two weeks after an already prolonged special session.
"For nearly 60 days, the Democratic-led General Assembly failed to deal with the $2.7 billion hole in our state budget and now they are punting once again because of an intra-party fight on an entirely unrelated matter,” Cox said in a statement.
"Now, they are delaying the adoption of a new budget for at least two more weeks because a few liberal holdouts within the Democratic party are opposing the bipartisan constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission,” Cox said. “The opposition to the enabling legislation for the constitutional amendment is tenuously reasoned at best, but the idea that Democrats are going to delay the adoption of the entire budget over this is just astounding.”
Cox told The Center Square the budget should have been addressed at the beginning of the session, but Democrats focused on criminal justice reform that wasn’t related to the budget. He said the time it took to work on these bills, which he said were anti-police, and the new delay are holding up the implementation of COVID-19, K-12 education, broadband and other spending initiatives in the budget.
The Center Square reached out to multiple House and Senate Democrats who were in the conference committee but has not received a response.
The budget bill includes more than $90 million in one-time education funding to offset losses caused by a decrease in sales tax revenue. To pay for the funding, lawmakers allocated revenue accrued through a tax on skilled gaming machines. The budget also will include funding for some of the K-12 initiatives that were unallocated at the beginning of the year because of prospective revenue shortfalls caused by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
About $60 million was allocated to higher education to maintain affordable access, and $120 million worth of federal COVID-19 relief funding also will go to higher education.
The budget includes language that would expand flexibility in the housing trust fund in response to Virginians facing economic hardships during the pandemic. It also includes $100 million in COVID-19 funding to assist Virginians who are behind on their utility bills.
About $85 million for broadband expansion is included in the budget proposal, but the final bill eliminated a proposal by House Democrats that would have allowed municipal broadband authority to compete with private companies for state grants for broadband expansion.
The budget includes a $500 bonus for police officers and about $7.5 million to help local police departments recruit and retain officers. The budget would include another $1,500 bonus for all state employees, but this would be contingent on revenue increasing by enough to cover the costs. It also calls for the governor to propose a salary increase incentive for teachers, which also is contingent on available funds.