Richmond Report by Senator Dick Saslaw
The holiday season has arrived and we are in the last month of counting down to the start of the January General Assembly session. The fall has been a busy one, with no shortage of campaign “promises”, redistribution, founding meetings and numerous legislative briefings, including the retirement of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee in mid-November.
The annual event is typically attended by elected senators from each district in Virginia. It’s a deep dive into the state of the economy with professionals and staff showcasing the realities of Virginia income as well as short and long term spending. Despite the pandemic, Virginia has a surplus of income thanks to the injection of ARPA funds and other federal funds destined for the Commonwealth. Let me remind you that this is one-off good news that cannot be factored into long-term budget planning.
The rhetoric of the tax break campaign often seems milder than the hard facts. Since Labor Day, the airwaves have been inundated with “Day One” promises. To be clear, tax reform does not happen with a decree. With the same clarity, the legislator will play its important role in any dialogue on tax reform. Some of us still remember the famous “no car tax” promise, which continues to have a major local impact. It is now costing taxpayers almost a billion dollars in the state spending plan.
The governor-elect continues to seek to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. Not a terrible idea, but still one with a serious impact on our communities. Local budgets are supplemented by millions of dollars generated from this source of revenue. These funds are often reinvested in schools, community services and other items which are sometimes razed during the lean season. Lost income will have to be replaced, possibly by the Commonwealth.
Another idea under consideration concerns the gasoline tax. Much of my professional adult career has been spent as an owner and operator of gas / gas stations. I speak from experience saying that the $ 80 to $ 100 that you could save from a 10 cent suspension of the state gasoline tax will be more than absorbed by the mechanic’s bill you get for a new one. tire and alignment after hitting a pothole that gasoline tax revenue is currently fixing.
Last year the gasoline tax generated almost $ 1 billion in revenue. These revenues are used to supplement Metro, the Virginia Railway Express, and also provide funds for the maintenance of roads and highways. Potholes, road resurfacing and snow removal on major arteries are the obvious things that need increased revenue, not reduction. To be frank, I hear voters talk more about the state of the roads than any other problem in the 35th arrondissement.
The Covid-19 has hit families in Virginia hard. As we journeyed through the unknown challenges of the pandemic, Governor Northam’s leadership helped minimize health risks and deaths. However, our children experienced learning loss, minimal socialization, and in many cases developed mental health issues. With the closure of schools and the changing roles of public education, families coped as best they could.
There was a migration to private schools as well as unique arrangements for those who could afford it. This is due to a 10 percent drop in public enrollment in Kindergarten to Grade 12. As you may know, enrollment is the basis for local funding of public education. Each year, local school boards receive funding based on student enrollment. This process is called re-benchmarking. In 2021, school districts were “kept whole” with ARPA funds despite declining enrollment. This income stream will disappear as we move forward. Keep in mind that fixed overheads like payroll, air conditioning, additional student assessments, and identified needs tend to increase.
Statistics show the significant benefit of early learning. It is undeniable that the earlier a child enrolls in a structured program like kindergarten, the better their chances of succeeding in life. During the pandemic, enrollment in Kindergarten (by about 8%) and Kindergarten (by about 4%) declined. Virginia has provided $ 50 million in the current fiscal year to expand the Virginia Preschool Initiative Program to include at-risk three-year-olds, provide pay supplements to early childhood teachers, and encourage role models. public-private provision of nursery school. Public education reaches most Virginians. Back in Richmond, I will continue to lead the fight for the next generation based on long-term priorities.
My sincere greetings for the season to each of you. As we continue to move out of the grip of the pandemic, may you and yours enjoy good health and prosperity through the economic recovery we are experiencing. Best wishes for a safe and happy new year.