This week, I was honored to be named to the Privilege and Elections Committee by Speaker Cox. I will be replacing my colleague and new state senator, Jennifer Boysko, on the committee. This means I now sit on three committees: Privileges and Elections; Counties, Cities and Towns; and Appropriations. The first week of the legislative session has been an especially busy one on the Appropriations Committee. Over the past week we have been briefed by the Appropriations staff and Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane on Governor Northam’s budget amendments. After reviewing the Governor’s budget, I am thrilled with his changes.
The Governor has managed to invest in the future of Virginia while maintaining a fiscally responsible budget. He has proposed setting aside $1.1 billion in reserve funds, including last year’s surplus to maintain our valuable triple-A bond rating. Additionally, he has invested in large, bold one-time expenditures that will make huge differences in the lives of thousands of Virginians without creating unpaid long term deficits.
While the Trump tax cuts were aimed at increasing corporate profits, Governor Northam’s amended budget is targeted towards working families. Frankly, working one job should be good enough to provide for a family. That is why Governor Northam has proposed to make the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) fully refundable. Currently, under Virginia law the EITC is used to offset the taxpayers bill but if the bill is less than the credit (as of 2017 the credit is a maximum of $510 for a qualifying individual with no children) the taxpayer doesn’t get the difference. These extra dollars could make a big difference in the lives of many working Virginians. Furthermore, making the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable would account for only 0.4 percent of the Virginia operating budget. This is an investment in the middle class that Virginia can afford to make. We can and should join 24 other states in making this tax credit fully refundable.
I am also proud that several of my proposals are included in Governor Northam’s budget. The Governor allocated $200,000 for the Grow Your Own Teacher pilot program, which aims to increase the teacher workforce and diversity in Title I schools across Virginia. My bill will provide four-year college scholarships and institutional support to low-income high school seniors who are committed to teach in their school district’s high-need public schools.
Additionally, $10 million is included in the Governor’s budget, an increase of $5.5 million from last year, for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation. This is great news as the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation awards grants to help fund the purchase of permanent conservation easements, open spaces and parklands, lands of historic or cultural significance, farmlands and forests, and natural areas. I will be introducing HB 2009 which will establish a ranking procedure to allocate these grants going forward. This ranking procedure will ensure funds are disbursed appropriately and at an efficient cost.
Furthermore, Governor Northam has allotted $1.429 million to the Department of Labor and Industry which would allow 14 Labor Law Compliance Officers to be hired. Currently, there are only two Labor Law Compliance Officers that are responsible for all of Virginia’s non-payment of wage cases. I have recognized the lack of funding for Labor Law Compliance Officers in the past and am excited to see that the Governor has addressed this issue through his budget.
Lastly, the Virginia Housing Trust Fund has $19 million allocated in the Governor’s budget. Affordable housing is a serious challenge in our community and this increase is a step in the right direction for the Commonwealth. I will continue to work to ensure that every Virginian can lead a quality life, starting with affordable housing.
All of these investments will help us work towards creating a more fair and just Commonwealth. I look forward to working with my General Assembly colleagues to implement as many of the Governors amendments as possible. I hope to see you at one of our two town meetings on Saturday where we will discuss the Governor’s budget, legislation in the General Assembly and the issues facing our community. The first town hall will be at Walt Whitman Middle School starting at 9 a.m. and the second will be at Hayfield Elementary School starting at noon. DMV 2 GO will be outside for your convenience if you need anything done and want to save a trip to the DMV in the future.