Gov. Glenn Youngkin ceremonially signed Virginia’s latest two-year spending plan at an event in Short Pump on Tuesday. (Kate Masters/Virginia Mercury)
Throughout a ceremonial bill signing with the pomp of a campaign event, Gov. Glenn Youngkin touted Virginia’s latest budget as a win for his administration, even as he criticized Senate Democrats for blocking key priorities including a gas tax suspension.
“We’ve taken the important steps to eliminate the state’s portion of the grocery tax, increase the standard deduction by 80 percent and declare the largest tax rebate in the history of Virginia,” he told a cheering crowd at Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market, a Short Pump grocery store that also served as a location for several campaign commercials.
“Look, this will not overcome everything, and oh, by the way, it’s not everything I wanted,” he added. “So we’re going to go back in January and get the rest.”
The state’s next budget, which has yet to officially arrive on the governor’s desk, goes into effect July 1 and is the first spending plan Youngkin has overseen during his term as governor.
The mixture of praise, disappointment and promises for the future contained in Youngkin’s remarks Tuesday underscored the challenges the governor faces in working with a divided legislature. While General Assembly lawmakers handed him some wins in the latest budget, including a last-minute partial rollback of an earned sentence credit law first passed in 2020, Youngkin faced repeated opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Among the governor’s victories were agreements by budget negotiators to cut the state’s grocery tax from 2.5 percent to 1 percent — preserving the portion that goes to local governments — and increase the standard deduction from $4,500 to $8,000 for single filers and from $9,000 to $16,000 for married couples filing jointly. While the changes to the standard deductions will sunset in 2026, lawmakers also approved direct rebate checks of $250 for single filers and $500 for married Virginians.
On other priorities, though, the governor had to accept significant compromises or an outright no from Senate Democrats. Budget negotiators slashed a proposed $150 million for so-called “lab schools” down to $100 million in the final spending plan, and the Senate repeatedly blocked his proposed three-month gas tax holiday with help from Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta.
Democratic legislators have long argued that the proposal will lead to marginal, if any, decreases at the pump while draining state transportation funding.
“I continue to be very frustrated about the gas tax,” Youngkin said after the budget signing. “Very frustrated.”
“I wanted $5 billion in tax cuts and we got $4 billion,” he continued. “I wanted more funding into lab schools, I wanted more funding into development, I wanted more funding for law enforcement. So, we’ve got lots of places where, when we really focus on getting the cost of living down, we can do more.”
In some areas, continued concessions from Democrats or a Republican retaking of the Senate majority in 2023 could be crucial for the survival of administration priorities. While the General Assembly passed a Youngkin-backed amendment to expand eligibility for lab schools, for example, the Senate killed language that would allow state per-pupil funding to go to the programs. Without a sustainable revenue stream, it’s unclear how many colleges and universities will be willing to support lab schools long-term, a challenge that’s previously limited their success in Virginia.
Youngkin highlighted both those priorities throughout the budget signing, framing school choice as part of a central platform to expand parents’ rights.
“We are reminding the country every single day that parents matter,” he said. “Whether it’s explicit materials in the classroom, whether it’s your child wears a mask or not, parents in Virginia make those decisions.”
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