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Virginia General Assembly to return June 1 to vote on state budget

Virginia state legislators will return to Richmond next week to vote on the budget deal. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — State legislators got word Monday that they should return to the Capitol on June 1 to vote on a proposed two-year state budget, even though final details on the spending plan were still being hammered out.

Money committee leaders plan to meet Wednesday to iron out the last differences in rival House and Senate bills, which were $3 billion apart in March when the General Assembly gave up on reconciling them in its regular session and kicked the legislation into a special session.

“Virginians are ready for the General Assembly to come together on the budget and deliver much-needed tax relief and investments in education, law enforcement, and behavioral health for Virginians,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said in a written statement Monday. “I look forward to reviewing their budget proposal.”

Legislators launched the special session in April on his orders but promptly went home because there was no compromise to vote on. That is still the case; however, budget negotiators were confident that they would have a deal before the two chambers gavel in next week.

“Please adjust your schedules and plan accordingly to be here in Richmond next week for this important work to resume,” House Clerk G. Paul Nardo wrote in a letter to delegates and House staff members. Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar also confirmed the June 1 return.

Virginia budget negotiators signal they are close to striking deal

It is not unusual for budget negotiations to go into overtime. The state needs a spending plan in place by the start of its new fiscal year July 1 to avoid a government shutdown, a prospect that neither side thinks is even a remote possibility.

The main obstacle to a budget agreement has been the sweeping tax cuts sought by Youngkin and the Republican-led House, which have included doubling the state standard deduction, ending the 2.5 percent statewide tax on groceries, exempting $40,000 of military pensions, suspending an increase in the gasoline tax for one year and imposing a gas-tax holiday of three months.

The Senate, under slim Democratic control, has wanted to examine the entire tax system for a year before adjusting the standard deduction to make sure future revenue would not be unduly harmed, take out the state’s 1.5 percent portion of the grocery tax while still allowing localities to levy the remaining 1 percent, and keep the gas tax the same, arguing that oil companies are unlikely to pass the savings on to consumers.

Negotiators have said for some time that they were close to a deal, but they have given no public indication of whether they were leaning toward more tax cuts, more spending or somehow splitting the difference.

“We are close,” Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said Monday. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach) declined to comment. The spending plans must be available online for legislators to review no later than 10 a.m. on May 30 to adhere to rules requiring that legislators have 24 hours to review budget bills before voting.