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Youngkin revives gas tax cut, skips Commanders stadium in budget plan

The Virginia House of Delegates reconvened in a special session to work on the budget at the Virginia Capitol, in Richmond, on June 1. The General Assembly returns Friday to take up budget amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). (Daniel Sangjib Min/AP)

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) once again is urging the General Assembly to temporarily suspend the state’s gasoline tax in a series of budget proposals, but he is not including support for a Commanders stadium.

Youngkin also is proposing a language amendment to the budget that would create a new felony for demonstrating outside the home of a judge with the intent to intimidate — a response to protests last month outside the Virginia home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. over a leaked draft opinion that would eliminate the federal right to an abortion.

Youngkin faced criticism from some conservatives for not using the state police to break up those demonstrations, citing a lack of authority.

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The legislature returns to Richmond on Friday to take up new amendments proposed by Youngkin to the state’s two-year spending plan, which lawmakers passed this month after a significant delay as they tussled over Youngkin’s call for extensive tax cuts.

Negotiators from the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate, unable to agree on a budget when the regular legislative session adjourned in mid-March, finally settled on a package of tax cuts and spending increases that won near-unanimous approval in both chambers.

Virginia lawmakers approve budget with tax cuts, spending increases

Under state law, the document went back to the governor for one last round of tweaks. Though lawmakers from both parties had urged him not to tinker with the extensive compromises in the budget, Youngkin has prepared 38 new amendments. Three of those apply to the small “caboose” budget that ties up loose ends for the current fiscal year; the rest are aimed at the spending plan for the next two years, according to staffers who briefed reporters on the amendments.

The new fiscal year begins July 1, putting pressure on lawmakers to reconcile Youngkin’s requests and get a budget in place by the end of this month.

Youngkin is renewing his long-standing call to suspend the state’s 26-cent tax on a gallon of gasoline, proposing to lift it from July 1 through Sept. 30 and then to cap future inflation adjustments at 2 percent. Gas prices are at all-time high levels; a gallon of regular unleaded averaged $4.865 in Virginia on Wednesday, according to AAA.

The House included the cut in its original budget, but the Senate did not. Some lawmakers from both parties have worried that the cut would deprive state transportation needs of badly needed dollars with no guarantee that retailers would pass savings along to consumers. The cut was one of a few tax cuts that lawmakers did not include in the compromise budget they passed this month.

The General Assembly’s budget stopped short of doubling the standard deduction for personal income-tax filers, increasing it from $4,500 for individuals and $9,000 for married couples to $8,000 and $16,000, respectively. Youngkin is not challenging that.

Youngkin is also not challenging the General Assembly’s plan to cut the 1.5 percent state grocery tax but leave intact the additional 1 percent levied by localities; the governor had originally asked to eliminate both.

One more item he’s declining to pursue: a proposal that would have supplied some $350 million in incentives for the Washington Commanders to build a stadium in Northern Virginia. Though Youngkin had earlier been an advocate, lawmakers have one by one withdrawn support for the team over its many scandals.

State Senate leader gives up on a bill to bring Commanders to Virginia

The issue appeared dead last week when defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio dismissed the Jan. 6 insurrection as a “dust-up,” leading the team to issue a fine and General Assembly leaders to say they will no longer consider supporting the stadium. Youngkin could have forced the issue, but is not doing so, according to his staff.

But Youngkin has introduced a few new issues that are sure to provoke debate among lawmakers. One amendment would prohibit using public money to fund abortion services, something that’s banned under federal law. Virginia law permits using public funds in some circumstances, such as a pregnancy that results from rape or incest, where the life or health of the mother is at risk, or in some cases where the fetus is severely abnormal.

Another budget language amendment is aimed at expanding the definition of institutions of higher learning that can participate in Youngkin’s push for “lab schools,” or partnerships with K-12 schools. Yet another would require public colleges and universities to sign a pledge and create a plan to ensure freedom of expression on campus.

Youngkin also is proposing an amendment to limit the credits that can be earned by some prison inmates who have concurrent or consecutive sentences — a step aimed at lessening the impact of a new law that would see some inmates get early release this year.