CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - After more than a month of deliberation and debate, House Democrats passed a budget proposal earlier this week. The $134 billion financial plan for the next two years is supplemented in part by CARES Act funding. However, a big part of the decision making this summer has been what to keep despite the pandemic causing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall.
Tackling the budget crisis caused by COVID-19 is actually what this special session was called to address – but the year’s events led to delegates having to switch gears, change priorities, and put some major budget items from the spring on the backburner.
“All of those things that we were so proud to have accomplished in the spring, were suddenly uncertain,” 57th District Delegate Sally Hudson (D) explained. "So, a big part of what we’ve been doing here in a special session is trying to decide which of them can come back now, and which of them might be delayed for the future?”
One of the things on the chopping block is a long overdue raise for teachers.
"Until we start paying our teachers like the professionals, they are along with all of the other amazing people who make schools tick, then I don’t see that how we’re going to have our schools getting the support that they need,” Hudson said.
The budget also added several major criminal justice changes, like $28 million for expungement reform, something Hudson has long been a champion for.
“It’s absolutely critical as a matter of fairness and equity, that we do expungement reform here in Virginia,” Hudson said. "It’s interesting, the sticker price of that bill is so high, because there are some technical upgrades required to do all of the record keeping.”
Hudson explains she would like to see state IT systems modernized in the years to come, to keep prices down for reforms like this, that she says are cheaper than they appear.
The budget also includes additional payments to nursing homes, expansions for mental healthcare access in the commonwealth, provides $16 million for short term childcare needs, and restores funding for post-partum support for new mothers.
Hudson says the financial problems faced were only heightened by not utilizing the state’s reserves and not harnessing revenue from large retailers.
“We have a really outdated tax code that has big holes for a lot of the biggest winners of the COVID economic crisis,” she explained. "Those big online vendors like Amazon, the major corporations that span states, they’re not paying their fair share.”
Next, the budget will go before the state Senate, where major differences in vision will have to be resolved before a final bill comes to pass. One sticking point Hudson foresees is what to do with millions in over-charge fees from Dominion Energy.
“A big report came out from the State Corporation Commission that says that Dominion Energy has been overcharging Virginians to the tune of $500-plus million," Hudson said. “I think one of our big battles for the next couple of weeks, is to make sure that they step up and meet the challenge that the governor has set. That is Virginia is money, and our Virginia consumers deserve to have it back.”