|We have passed the official midpoint of the 2019 Session and we’re now entering the home stretch.|
Before I provide a General Assembly update, I want to touch on the events that have transpired over the last week in the Commonwealth. The revelations against and admissions made by our state leaders are both surprising and disturbing. It has been a tough week for Virginians on all political spectrums and has understandably shaken their faith in our Government.
However, Virginia has weathered storms before and we will get through this one. These controversies will be resolved in due course. To be clear, despite the media insinuations that the Capitol is in crisis and the entire state government is paralyzed with these scandals, I assure you that is not the case. The General Assembly is proceeding with our necessary business as we consider and advance legislation to improve the lives of all Virginians. We were sent to Richmond to do a job and I want to assure you that while our Commonwealth has been shaken by these developments, our work continues without disruption. The Commonwealth’s 100,000 state employees also continue to serve diligently.
I hope you will join me in praying for our Commonwealth and our leaders at this difficult time.
Tax Relief Agreement Reached
Republicans in the House and Senate have agreed on the terms of a $1 billion tax relief package, the most significant tax relief plan in at least 15 years and the second largest tax cut in Virginia history. The legislation is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate on Monday, then forwarded to Governor Northam who has agreed to sign the plan.
The bicameral compromise will provide $420 million in tax refunds to Virginia taxpayers in October of 2019, increase the standard deduction by fifty percent beginning in tax year 2019, maintain the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT), and include key business tax provisions for Virginia’s largest job creators. The total package will guarantee at least $976 million in tax relief and ensure that all additional revenues from the permanent provisions of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are placed in the state’s cash reserve fund.
Under this plan, married couples will receive a tax refund check of up to $220 in October and beginning next year, will receive $173 in tax relief on their state taxes, for a total of $400 back over the next two years. This is simple, direct and meaningful tax relief.
I have been consistent in my position that we must return to the hardworking taxpayers what is rightfully theirs and not use the “windfall” as an excuse to raise taxes. This is especially true given that we are seeing positive revenue growth anyway without squeezing middle class taxpayers further.
House Passes Budget
This week we passed amendments to our two-year spending plan that invests additional resources in public education, school safety, higher education, and economic development while still rejecting the tax hike proposed by the other side of the aisle. They wanted to spend excess revenues (your tax dollars) in an attempt to increase the size of government, while we believe the money should be returned to the taxpayers,
The budget identifies $120 million in healthcare savings, strengthens taxpayer protections in the Medicaid forecasting process, eliminates unfunded liabilities and saves $729 million in state spending over the next quarter-century.
The budget includes a record investment of nearly $19 million specifically for school safety, doubling the funding for School Security Grants and adding $3 million for school resource officers. As a recommendation of the Select Committee on School safety, it also invests $36 million new dollars to reduce the student to counselor ratio in our public schools. We also offered an additional 2% pay boost for our teachers and state employees. This is on top of the 3% included in the budget last year, for a total of 5% offered in the biennium.
The budget increases higher education funding by $54 million compared to the adopted budget and prioritizes higher education affordability by including $45 million to incentivize colleges and universities to hold tuition flat at 2019 levels. It also includes an increase for the Tuition Assistance Grant funding for students who attend Virginia’s private colleges and a sizable boost for the Workforce Credential Grant program that provides significant aid to meet the need in high demand fields.
Other areas to note are a significant investment in broadband of $24 million. Bringing broadband service to our unserved rural communities is critical. The budget also raises the accelerated sales tax (AST) threshold to $10 million, thus eliminating this burden on smaller businesses. Raising the threshold and eventually eliminating AST has been a priority of mine for several years.
This is a responsible budget that puts taxpayers first. I’m hopeful much of our plan can be adopted in the final conference report between the House and Senate.
|Lowering College Savings Costs|
On Tuesday we passed HB 1611, legislation to make it easier for families to afford college by lowering the price of Prepaid529 plans. The legislation will lower the current cost of an eight semester contract by more than $3,000.
Currently, families pay a 10 percent “pricing reserve” on top of the semester contract prices. The pricing reserve is on top of the amount needed to pay future contract benefits and is used to mitigate risk to the fund.
A recent analysis by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), found that Virginia’s Prepaid529 program is funded at 138%. JLARC indicated it is funded well beyond levels necessary to ensure benefits and solvency. Therefore, they recommended a 5% pricing reserve would be adequate to pay benefits while improving affordability for plan participants.
This commonsense proposal will have a significant impact on families’ being able to keep more money in their pockets and attend college at a lower cost.
Virginia 529 College Savings Plans are a good investment for future education related expenses. It’s never too early or too late to start saving for college! I encourage you to visit www.virginia529.com to get started today.
I appreciate all the visitors from back home that have come to see us this session. We are still in Richmond for the next two weeks and welcome the opportunity to meet or hear from you. You can continue to email DelTWilt@house.virginia.gov or call (540) 698-1026 to share your thoughts on legislation or to schedule an appointment to meet with myself or my staff.
You can also keep up with us on social media at facebook.com/DelTonyWilt or twitter.com/DelTonyWilt.
Thanks for allowing me the continued opportunity to serve as your representative in Richmond!