Appropriations chair reviews state budget

Published 10:31 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

By Delegate Chris Jones

The 2019 Session of the General Assembly marked my 22nd year representing the citizens of Suffolk and my sixth year as chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates.

It is an honor and privilege to lead this committee, and I recognize the importance of not only producing a balanced budget that meets the needs of Virginia but also making strategic investments for our future.

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Shortly after arriving in Richmond, I announced that the Appropriations Committee would construct a budget, setting aside into a Tax Payer Relief Fund, income tax revenues anticipated to be generated from Virginia taxpayers as a result of the doubling of the standard deduction under the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

Instead of spending this windfall, as proposed by the governor, the General Assembly wisely directed the return of these dollars to Virginia taxpayers. These actions did two things. First, it set aside approximately $450 million to provide refunds of $110 for individual filers and $220 for married filers, to be paid in the fall of 2019. The second action was to increase the standard deduction from $3,000 to $4,500 for individual filers and $6,000 to $9,000 for married filers.

I believe the decision to build our budget within the revenues generated through our expanding economy, along with other budgetary savings, was the proper starting point.

With that backdrop, the General Assembly’s spending priorities are strategic and focused and keep our commitment to Virginia families by making significant investments in public education, higher education, economic development, the environment, and to maintain Virginia’s Triple A bond rating.

Building on last year’s historic funding for public education, amendments to the budget will result in a total increase of $258.2 million in Fiscal Year 2020 over Fiscal Year 2019. Included in this is the state’s share of a 5-percent increase in teacher pay, $34.7 million in additional lottery funds that go back to the schools without a local match requirement, $24.9 million in At-Risk Add-on funds to all schools based on a sliding scale percentage of students eligible for free lunch (an increase of 11.8 percent for Suffolk Public Schools), $12 million to provide more school counselors, $16 million for Early Childhood Initiatives, and nearly $12 million for School Safety Initiatives.

Likewise, this budget continues our commitment toward access and affordability in higher education. Building on last year’s budget, our investment of $175 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to our colleges and universities will result in a tuition freeze for Virginia families.

In addition to making our colleges more affordable, this budget will make an initial investment of $16.6 million to meet our commitment to the Tech Talent Pipeline by growing 25,000 new degrees over the next 20 years in the field of computer science and technology.

In the area of economic development and the environment, the budget includes historic funding in two areas. First, the budget makes the largest investment ever to water quality improvement, bringing total funding for the biennium to more than $127 million. Likewise, the budget makes the largest investment in broadband funding, bringing total funds available to $23 million in order to incentivize our private partners to provide high speed internet access to more Virginia families and businesses.

The budget also provides $17 million to promote additional research in Hampton Roads. Specifically, the budget includes $14 million for a new Hampton Roads Biomedical Research Consortium in partnership with Eastern Virginia Medical School, Old Dominion University, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, along with other Virginia Research Universities; $2.5 million for EVMS for community health programs in partnership with Sentara; and, $500,000 to support Jefferson Labs’ creation of a new nuclear femtology center.

Finally, I am very pleased that we can continue to address one of our greatest assets, our dedicated state employees, by providing a 5-percent salary increase. Our state employees are the ones that actually implement the policies and programs that we adopt.

I believe this year’s budget adheres to our commitment to strategically focusing our resources to fund the core services of government, to make investments in our system of education, and to lay a path for our economic future by investing in both our workforce and infrastructure, all while ensuring that the taxpayers of Virginia will not see an increase in their state income tax.

Delegate S. Chris Jones represents the 76th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. Contact him at