Youngkin budget amendments target gas tax, education, inmate sentence credits | Govt-and-politics

gov. Glenn Youngkin isn’t vetoing anything in the budgets the General Assembly adopted this month, but he is seeking changes to the spending plans to suspend the state gas tax for three months, loosen the rules for eligibility and funding of lab schools outside of local K -12 systems, and amended sentencing credits for prison inmates to prevent release of more than 500 inmates this summer.

Youngkin also is proposing budget amendments on a series of hot-button cultural issues, such as prohibiting state funding of abortion services, criminalizing protests with the intent to intimidate at a court or at the homes of court personnel, and pushing colleges and universities to adopt plans to ensure free speech and academic diversity on their campuses.

In a message appended to the two-year budget that begins July 1, Youngkin wrote: “I approve the general purpose of this bill, but I am returning it without my signature with the request that thirty-five amendments be adopted.

“My amendments primarily focus on expanding opportunities for education, keeping our communities safe, and making Virginia the best state for business. I believe that my amendments are necessary in order to continue the work that can unite Virginians, Republican and Democrat alike.”

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In a press briefing on Wednesday, aides to Youngkin outlined some of the total of 38 amendments that the first-year governor has proposed to pending budgets for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the next two-year spending cycle that begins on July 1. The General Assembly will consider his proposed amendments when it reconvenes on Friday.

The governor would pay for most of his proposed changes with an additional $32 million between both budgets that the administration identified from the reduced fiscal impact of conforming with current federal tax laws and savings of unspent money for relief in declared emergencies. His proposals would cost about $35 million, aides said.

The big exception is the estimated $437 million in transportation revenues that Virginia would lose under Youngkin’s revival of his failed proposal to declare a three-month holiday in collection of state taxes on motor fuels – 26.2 cents per gallon for gasoline and 27 cents per gallon for diesel fuel.

The new proposal would suspend collection of the motor fuels tax from July 1 through Sept. 30, and then cap future increases for inflation at 2%. The administration has not estimated the cost of the proposed cap, which would compound from year to year.

During an appearance Monday in Arlington, Youngkin said: “It is the single biggest topic people are concerned about — the rising cost of gasoline.”

The Senate already rejected a version of the proposal in the special session that the governor called on April 4 after the legislature dismissed his earlier attempt to roll back the most recent 5-cent-per-gallon increase in the tax for 12 months, beginning on July 1.

A coalition of road-building companies, transportation and environmental opponents say the governor’s tax package – including the inflation cap and the repeal of a portion of the sales tax on groceries that currently goes to transportation – would cost the state transportation fund more than $900 million about six years.

Youngkin aides said the governor is not seeking additional tax cuts in the budget, which included about $4 billion of the $5.5 billion he had sought in reduced income and sales taxes.

He is not seeking the repeal of the 1% sales tax on groceries that goes directly to local government or the higher one-time tax rebate he had proposed, which would have given $300 to individual taxpayers and $600 to families, instead of the $250/ $500 the assembly approved in the budgets.

The governor directed much of his attention to public education, where he is seeking to maintain a $25 million annual cap on tax credits for donations to private school foundations. The assembly’s budget compromise would reduce the cap to $12 million a year, just under the amount of tax credits used now.

Youngkin also proposes to expand eligibility for higher education institutions that want to develop lab schools to include private colleges and universities, community colleges and advanced learning institutes to ensure the alternative school option would be available across all regions.

He also wants to change the rules to ensure that the per-pupil public expenditures to local school divisions follow their students to alternative schools, an approach that the Senate rejected earlier this year.

The budget includes $100 million of the $150 million that Youngkin had sought for the initiative, but he isn’t proposing to restore an additional $50 million.

He is seeking an additional $4 million to address student “learning loss” when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also is proposing language to ensure that regional learning specialists and teachers at regional governor’s schools receive a $1,000 one-time bonus that the budget includes for public school teachers.

In higher education, Youngkin proposed an additional $18 million for historically Black colleges and universities, including $4 million to bolster campus safety and additional money for financial aid.

He also is renewing his pressure on public colleges and universities, which many political conservatives perceive as left-leaning, to adopt six-year plans to ensure that their institutions foster free speech and inquiry, as well as diverse academic perspectives.

In early May, Youngkin sent a letter to the Council of Presidents, representing the leadership of higher education institutions, asking them also to “prioritize the hiring of staff and faculty with diverse political perspectives.”

Youngkin wants to make it a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to picket at or near a court or a residence with the intent to interfere with the administration of justice.

The move comes after people opposed to the signaled nullification of abortion protections under Roe vs. Wade protested at US Supreme Court justices’ homes in Northern Virginia. Last week, police arrested a man armed with a gun and knife outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Maryland.

Youngkin proposes to create a rebuttable presumption against bail for certain criminal offences. Chesterfield law enforcement officials have attributed an uptick in offender releases to a criminal justice reform measure the General Assembly passed last year that removed all presumptions against granting bail to a defendant, regardless of the seriousness of their crime.

The governor also wants to restore a provision to the budget that would prohibit use of state funds for abortion services. Republicans had protected the prohibition when they controlled the assembly and Democrats discarded it when they had majorities in both chambers from 2020 to the beginning of this year.

Youngkin also proposed to block the pending release of some state prison inmates next month under expanded earned credits sentences that the assembly adopted in 2020.

The expanded credits would allow early release of more than 3,000 inmates from July to August. The governor’s aides said he wants to close a loophole to block the credits from applying to about 560 inmates serving sentences for violent crimes, including capital and 1st-degree murder, abduction, rape and sexual assault.

Youngkin also is proposing $4.7 million for 36 additional security positions at state-operated mental health treatment facilities.

The governor also proposes $100,000 each for the families of slain Bridgewater College Campus Police Officer John Painter and Campus Safety Officer JJ Jefferson “to alleviate hardship expenses” associated with the Feb. 1 shooting.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

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