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Lawmakers set to return amid stalemates on taxation, education

Building with neoclassical architecture
Crixell Matthews
The Virginia State Capitol in downtown Richmond. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

This story was produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. 

Lawmakers must return to Richmond on April 4 to finish up the state budget. Democrats and Republicans were unable to strike a compromise on cutting taxes and funding for public services during the regular session that ended March 11.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin promised tax relief to Virginians on the campaign trail, and he’s standing by his proposal for $4.5 billion in tax refunds, a standard deduction increase and more.

“Together, we can produce the biggest tax cut in the history of the Commonwealth at a time when Virginians need it the most,” Youngkin said in a statement last month. He argues that Virginians are overtaxed, and points to last year’s biggest-ever budget surplus - along with higher than expected state revenues - as proof.

Youngkin’s proposals are best represented in the budget plan passed by Republicans in the House of Delegates. Senate Democrats, however, have focused more on funding state programs, with less of an emphasis on general tax relief in their proposal.

Chad Stewart is with the teachers union Virginia Education Association. VEA largely backs the Senate budget, which includes larger raises for teachers and staff.

“We see it as really essential to try to work towards getting to the national teacher pay average as quickly as possible,” Stewart said. Even if the Senate plan for a 5% raise goes through, he says Virginia would likely still be a few thousand dollars off the national average.

VEA and other policy groups like The Commonwealth Institute are also supporting tax programs more narrowly targeted at parents and low-income families.

Emily Smarte, a single mother from Waynesboro, says despite securing raises and promotions in the five years since her son was born, she is struggling to keep up. She wants the earned income tax credit to be fully refundable.

“The rising childcare costs and the rising rent costs - these are the basic, very basic needs of your constituents that aren’t being met,” Smarte said.

Ashley Kenneth of The Commonwealth Institute also said making the EITC refundable could translate to, on average, $500 in cash back to families in need.

“A budget that prioritizes parents and the next generation means robust investments in public education,” Kenneth said.

Youngkin and House Republicans say their plan does enough to cover gaps in education funding.

State lawmakers must also iron out spending proposals for lab schools and funding for public school maintenance and construction.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.