The General Assembly is expected to vote Wednesday on a budget compromise hammered out by top money legislators from House Republicans and Senate Democrats. The proposal includes tax and spending policy, but also includes legislation that would fund lab schools, block a Richmond casino for now, and create new marijuana misdemeanors for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana in public.
Executive Director of Virginia NORML JM Pedini said in a recent update that there had been the potential for three class 6 felonies.
“This final language is much, much, much different, much more improved than what they were originally considering,” Pedini said, but also criticized re-criminalizing marijuana.
“The re-criminalization narrative is strong on this one, right. And so that part’s bad, like re-criminalization – bad, but also, maintaining some felonies in code that don’t need to be there – really, really, bad. So it’s very much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Pedini said.
After legalizing marijuana in 2021, some legislators and Governor Glenn Youngkin have worked to somewhat restrict marijuana in Virginia, but a 2022 bill to create marijuana misdemeanors failed, leaving legislation through the budget as the main option.
When State Senator Joe Morrissey’s (D-Richmond) efforts to block Richmond from holding a second casino referendum failed in the 2022 session, Morrissey pursued similar language in the budget, noting that the budget is law for the two years it covers.
The budget compromise includes an amendment blocking the Virginia Lottery from granting a casino license to a host city that didn’t approve a casino in a referendum before July 2022; the language says a new referendum must be held on or after November 1, 2023. In the meantime, the budget includes an amendment requiring the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to review the impact of a casino in Petersburg.
Morrissey has been pushing for Petersburg to get a casino after Richmond rejected it, although he no longer represents the city under new district lines. Democratic lawyer Paul Goldman called for Morrissey to resign in a Tuesday email to the media. Goldman has been arguing in court that 2021 House elections under old district lines are unconstitutional and have disenfranchised voters.
“Joe’s stabbing his own black constituency (85 percent for the Casino Referendum) in the back proves a key part of my redistricting lawsuit. Morrissey would not choose Petersburg constituents over his RVA constituents if he had not been redistricted out of RVA into a new Senate district which still includes Petersburg: yet he still is legally allowed to serve in his old defunct district until 2024. It violates the very principle of equal legislative representation,” Goldman wrote.
Think tanks noted the compromises within the overall proposal.
The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) President Ashley Kenneth highlighted improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit, increased Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, and improvements to dental care under Medicaid.
“While the conference budget proposal takes some important steps forward, much more work lies ahead to build a prosperous and equitable future for all people in our commonwealth. Virginia’s policymakers should seize every moment to make progress in [affordable housing, transportation, funding public schools, and more], both in the context of this budget and in future legislation,” Kenneth said in a press release.
TCI also published a helpful side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate budget proposals and the final compromise.
The Thomas Jefferson Institute summarized, “Youngkin and House Prevail on Tax Issues, But Senate Imposes Delays, Conditions.”
Senior Fellow Stephen Haner highlighted Republican wins in the compromise including the increased standard deduction, sales tax cuts, and tax exemptions for military retirement pay, but included warnings.
“There is a catch: Trigger language tied to revenue growth. Should the U.S. and Virginia go into recession, as many expect, and state taxes stagnate, the standard deduction could be reduced to just $15,000 per couple. Following a massive, multi-year expansion of tax revenue, it will be the growth rate starting this July 1 that sets the trigger,” Haner wrote.
“Another catch: The sales tax reduction on unprepared foods and essential personal hygiene items will not go into effect until January 1, 2023.”
“The bulk of the credit on this tax reform progress goes to Governor Glenn Youngkin (R), who promised to double the standard deduction in his campaign, made it a priority accepted by the House of Delegates in its version of the budget, and stuck with the idea through the long stalemated negotiations with the tax-happy Senate of Virginia,” Haner said.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Doug Kerr. CC BY-SA 2.0.