By Senator Lynwood Lewis

While the 2022 Legislative Session adjourned in March, we have been in a Special Session awaiting a negotiated Budget deal for months. The Virginia Legislature is constitutionally obligated to produce and approve a balanced Budget by the start of the fiscal year on June 1 or risk a government shut down.

The Budget Committees released the compromise Budget over Memorial Day weekend and the Legislature voted to pass it on July 1. Because the amended House and Senate Budgets were hundreds of millions in revenue apart from one another, significant work had to be done to align them. With the final Budget, both sides gave and the result is one that is advantageous to all Virginians and favorable to the Eastern Shore.

The Senate prioritized increasing teacher salaries, and that priority remained in the final Budget. It maintained the 5% raise for each year of the two-year budget for a total raise of 10%, critical to staffing our public schools. While this appropriation will give teachers a much-needed pay raise, the public schools on the Shore are still competing with Maryland, where salaries are significantly higher. In this Budget, $1.7 million dollars was appropriated to Northampton and Accomack Counties in order to increase salaries as a means of attracting and retaining teachers while competing with Maryland. This comes on the heels of last year’s $2 million appropriation for the same purpose. This supplement and ultimate inclusion in Cost of Compete Allowances have been priorities of mine for some time, and this Budget does include language directing our Study Committee (JLARC) to do a comprehensive study of the Commonwealth’s current Cost of Compete Allowances (COCA) that would include looking at the inclusion of Northampton and Accomack Counties. As I mentioned in an earlier column, I am hopeful that we will get the first part of that study prior to the 2023 Session, and that there will be recommendations that recognize how necessary our inclusion in COCA is to the quality of education here on the Shore. Additionally, budget allocations to increase support staff, offer one-time $1000 bonuses to public school educators and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for school construction and modernization all should prove beneficial to the Shore.

The biggest difference in the Budgets during this year’s Session was regarding taxes, and the final Budget includes an increase in the standard tax deduction for single filers from $4,500 to $9,000 and $9,000 to $16,000 for married couples filing jointly. These increases are in place only through 2026 and will be scaled back if the Commonwealth fails to meet our revenue targets. The Budget also authorizes rebate checks of up to $250 per single filer and $500 per married couple filing jointly. In a compromise, the Budget also includes tax relief for retired veterans. Additionally, the 1.5% state tax on groceries was eliminated while the optional 1% put forth by localities remained in place.

The final Budget includes $25 million in new funding for a Resilient Revolving Loan Fund created by my Bill, SB756. This funding would be available in the form of loans and grants to local governments and individuals for critical resiliency projects. Equally as important for the Shore is the increase in funding to our Waterway Maintenance Fund. The multi-million dollar increase would allow for additional awarding of dollars by the Virginia Port Authority to several dredging projects on the Shore and in other rural coastal areas of the Commonwealth. This is in addition to a one-time allocation of $5 million for the purchase of two shallow-water dredges for the Eastern Shore and Middle Peninsula.

As it relates directly to the Shore, the final Budget allocates more than $12 million to the Towns of Wachapreague, Exmore, Parksley and Accomac for their sewer expansion in conjunction with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District and includes $1.5 million to complete the Chincoteague Inlet Study. The Budget allocates $350,000 to the Eastern Shore Public Library and Heritage Center and $114,000 from my Budget Amendment in funding to the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence for infrastructure needs at their new facility.

This is just a glimpse into the final biennial Budget Bill we passed on June 1; the final version of the Budget as it passed should be up on the State Budget website in the coming days. The Governor has hinted that he may be sending down amendments, but he must do within 7 days from June 9 when he received the Budget. Currently, the Legislature is still not adjourned from our Special Session, as legislators are still working through differences in the final handful of House and Senate bills that need to be brought to a vote. We will likely head to Richmond one more time before the July 1 deadline.
Please continue to reach out to my office through e-mail at district06@senate.district.gov or by phone at 757-787-1094.

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Alexa WESR