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Editorial: Why ban JLARC from state meetings?

Editorial: Why ban JLARC from state meetings?

Posted by on Apr 5, 2019 in News | 0 comments


In a March 31 RTD news article, “Va. attorney general told jail death investigators they could exclude state auditors from observing,” Patrick Wilson reported that Attorney General Mark Herring’s office has informed a state board investigating jail deaths in the commonwealth that it was not obligated to allow auditors from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) access to closed meetings.

The nonpartisan watchdog commission, JLARC, is responsible for conducting program evaluations, policy analysis and oversight of state agencies at the request of the General Assembly. Its duties are authorized by and outlined in the Code of Virginia. At the assembly’s request, JLARC has been conducting a review of the Office of the State Inspector General, specifically the IG’s role in inspecting jails. State law requires state agencies to provide any requested information to JLARC.

Hal Greer, executive director of JLARC, says that Herring told the state Board of Corrections it wasn’t required to let JLARC staff attend its closed discussions. Herring’s press secretary, Charlotte Gomer, declined to answer an email from Wilson as to how the attorney general reached that decision.

But Herring’s relationship with JLARC has been thorny. In January, an Associated Press news story says he “denounced a wide-ranging review of his office by the legislature’s watchdog agency as a politically motivated witch hunt.”

Not surprisingly, JLARC disagrees with Herring’s decision. The commission is seeking an amendment to the state budget that will give its staff access “to all information and operations of the Board of Corrections, including observing closed sessions.” Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has taken action to ensure the assembly considers the budget change when it reconvenes on Wednesday.

“I took strong exception to the position of the AG, and I was pleased to be able to work with the administration to fashion a solution that takes care of the immediate concern. And we agreed to work in the interim to further clarify JLARC’s authority,” Jones said. “Given the seriousness of the topic, it needed to be addressed immediately.”

We agree with Jones. The Office of the State Inspector General has already been criticized for its less-than-thorough report after the 2015 death of Jamycheal Mitchell, who died in Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In 2016, former Inspector General June Jennings claimed her office had “lacked authority to interview jail employees and request certain documents.” Others with the Inspector General’s Office dispute that.

Hopefully, the General Assembly wastes no time amending the budget to allow JLARC the access it needs. After the shameful death of Mitchell and several others in Virginia jails, discussions should be as transparent as possible. Yes, under the Freedom of Information Act, government agencies do have the discretion to hold closed meetings — but why? And why would Herring encourage any agency to do so?

— Robin Beres

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Republican Appropriations chairman to run again in what is now a Democratic-leaning district

Republican Appropriations chairman to run again in what is now a Democratic-leaning district

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times Dispatch, March 22, 2019.

House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, will run for re-election in a House of Delegates district that will favor Democrats after being dramatically redrawn by the federal courts.

Jones, 60, said he is undaunted by the challenge of running in a district that flipped from a 12-point Republican advantage to a 15-point margin for Democrats under the court-approved plan drawn by a California political science professor after his old district was among those the court found to be unconstitutional.

“That was not part of my decision,” he said in an interview Friday. “I’ve always reached across the aisle on issues that benefit the commonwealth and benefit Suffolk, and I will continue to do that.”

Despite a 27.4-percentage point swing from Republican to Democrat under the new plan for the 76th House District, no Democrat has filed yet to oppose Jones. House Democratic Caucus spokeswoman Kathryn Gilley predicted that challengers will emerge.

“We definitely have our eye on that district, and we are not letting it go,” Gilley said.

The Suffolk Democratic Committee plans to choose a candidate in a party caucus on May 11, giving potential challengers until April 26 to file for the election. The deadline for candidates to declare in party primaries is March 28.

All 100 House seats and all 40 Senate seats are up for election in November. Republicans hold a 51-49 edge in the House.

Jones, who had $605,416 in his campaign account at the end of last year, is seeking a 12th term in a House seat he has held since 1998. Previously, he served four years as Suffolk mayor and 12 on the City Council.

“He’s just a hard-working person who cares about the city,” Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson said.

Jones said he is confident he can retain the seat in the redrawn district because of his ties across party lines, particularly in the African-American community.

Dr. L.D. Britt, chairman of the surgery department at Eastern Virginia Medical School and a Suffolk native, said the party distinction shouldn’t matter.

“At the end of the day, I don’t care what territory in Suffolk they’ve got carved out, Delegate Jones needs to be in the General Assembly,” he said.

Britt, a professor and surgeon whose medical career includes a medal from the U.S. surgeon general, cited Jones’ advocacy for Eastern Virginia Medical School and his role in passage of Medicaid expansion last year after five years as part of Republican opposition in the House.

“For him to take the lead on that, you have to give him credit,” he said.

Eddie Moore, former president of Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, both historically black institutions, is a Suffolk resident who said he got to know Jones while trying to restore state confidence in the finances of Norfolk State over a period of more than four years.

“I try to build a relationship with the person no matter what the party affiliation is,” Moore said. “It was very easy to build a relationship with Chairman Jones. He really did stand behind his word.”

Jones, who became Appropriations chairman in 2014, is a loyal Republican who has long prided himself on his political independence on public policy.

In 2004, he helped engineer a vote to pass a $1.4 billion tax package proposed by then-Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to end a long impasse. He was one of 17 Republicans to vote for Warner’s tax proposal, and was exiled by his party leadership.

But Jones also was the architect of redistricting plans in 2001 and 2011 that solidified Republican control of the House. Ultimately, a federal panel found 11 districts in the 2011 plan unconstitutional because House leaders improperly used race to create majority-minority districts that effectively diluted black voters’ influence in adjacent districts.

House Republicans have appealed the court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jones cites his lead role in passage of a transportation funding package in 2013 that relied on new state and regional taxes to pay for critical road improvements, including a pending new bridge-tunnel crossing of Hampton Roads.

He also has played key roles in reforming Virginia’s public retirement system, an ongoing effort to restructure the state mental health system, and, working with then-Sen. Ralph Northam, now governor, banning smoking in most restaurants.

“I’m looking forward to running on my record,” Jones said.

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Long journey for autism advocates ends with stroke of governor’s pen

Long journey for autism advocates ends with stroke of governor’s pen

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times Dispatch, March 21, 2019.

More than a dozen years ago, Dr. Ralph Northam helped Mark Llobell on the path to a diagnosis for his grandson, Mark III, who has autism.

This week, as governor, Northam completed Llobell’s long political battle for insurance to pay for services to Virginians with autism, no matter their age.

The governor signed a pair of bills on Monday that will remove the age cap on requiring insurance coverage of services — now at 10 years old — effective on Jan. 1 for at least 10,000 Virginians with autism.

“It’s wonderful,” said Llobell, a Virginia Beach resident who had consulted with Northam, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, for a diagnosis of his grandson, now 14. “I’m just glad and grateful our families will finally receive the services that doctors prescribe.”

For Northam, the legislation epitomizes why he ran for public office in the first place.

“One of my primary motivations for entering public service was finding an avenue to address the frustrations and challenges that I would routinely encounter as a physician trying to help families navigate the insurance landscape,” the governor said Thursday in an announcement of his action.

“Now, individuals with autism will have access to the coverage they need, no matter their age — that will have a profound impact on families,” he said. “Both Democrats and Republicans have been working on this legislation for years and I’m proud to sign this legislation that exemplifies what we can achieve when we come together to improve the lives of the Virginians we serve.”

The legislation got a big boost from the same legislator who had let it die in committee last year on the last day of the legislative session.

House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, asked Llobell then to work with him between General Assembly sessions to help him understand the need for the legislation and allay concerns about its effect on insurers and the businesses they cover.

This year, Jones enlisted the support of House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who asked Del. Bob Thomas, R-Stafford, to carry it in the House of Delegates, where it faced the highest hurdle.

“The advocates were tireless in their efforts,” Jones said Thursday. “I am very pleased to see the legislation signed by the governor.”

The measure already had strong support in the Senate, where Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, sponsored the legislation.

“As someone who worked on this legislation for more than 10 years, I have seen the impact on families whose children were cut off from coverage,” Vogel said in the governor’s announcement. “We only succeeded this year because of their hard work and unbelievable commitment all of these years.”

Llobell began the search for insurance coverage of autism services after his grandson was diagnosed in 2007 at age 2.

For three years, he and other advocates had no success. In 2011, the General Assembly adopted legislation mandating coverage for ages 2-6, or under the average age for diagnosis. In 2015, the legislature raised the age cap to 10, where it has remained, despite determined efforts on both sides of the aisle and both chambers to remove it entirely.

During that span, Llobell helped found the Virginia Autism Project and the Virginia Autism Foundation, which he leads as CEO. He also spent his life savings on services for his formerly non-verbal grandson, who this year led the Pledge of Allegiance at a news conference for the legislation.

“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I’ve been vacationing in Richmond for 12 years, every January and February, trying to get this legislation passed.”

For Llobell, the legislation represents the opportunity for Virginians with autism to learn to care for themselves, communicate with others, attend public schools, and become productive citizens. It requires intensive services — especially applied behavioral analysis to engage those with autism — but he contends the alternative is far more costly to society.

“If you don’t get them the kinds of services they need, they become wards of the state,” he said. “The parents become caregivers for life.”

Dr. Hughes Melton, Virginia commissioner of behavioral health and developmental services, said the legislation’s approval “symbolizes yet another way that Governor Northam’s administration is addressing significant gaps in insurance coverage parity in the commonwealth.”

“Individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism need high-quality health insurance for all of their lives, not just an eight-year period,” Melton said.

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New tax fund will hold big money, require big decisions for future lawmakers

New tax fund will hold big money, require big decisions for future lawmakers

Posted by on Mar 5, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times Dispatch, March 1, 2019.

A sweeping new tax package that the General Assembly passed and Gov. Ralph Northam immediately signed into law will leave more than $1 billion in tax revenues in a new fund over the next six years for some form of tax relief to Virginians who pay more in state income taxes because of federal tax reforms.

The money represents higher income taxes Virginians are expected to pay under temporary provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that President Donald Trump signed in late 2017, but future state lawmakers will have to decide how to provide taxpayer relief with the revenues that will stop flowing after 2025.

“This will certainly put a premium on looking at comprehensive tax reforms, but the dilemma is all of this goes away in six years,” said House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, one of the architects of the revised two-year budget that represents the limit of the current legislature’s ability to determine what form tax relief will take.

“This is going to require discipline that I rarely have seen in Richmond to get it right,” Jones said.

Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, one of the principal architects of the tax plan, acknowledged that lawmakers — whoever they are after elections for all 140 assembly seats in November — will have to take up the issue again in the next two-year budget cycle.

“In 2020, we’ll be advancing tax policy again,” Newman predicted.

This year’s tax package generally conformed Virginia’s tax code to the new federal law, while enacting a number of policy changes in the second year and promising one-time refunds to taxpayers in the fall — $110 for individuals and $220 for married couples.

Republican legislators trumpeted the package as $1 billion in tax relief, but according to the state tax department it is expected to return about $782 million over two years, while sequestering about $85 million in the new “taxpayer relief fund” to enable the state to respond to unforeseen consequences as taxpayers file returns on 2018 income under the new federal law.

Most of the relief will come from the one-time refunds on 2018 taxes, totaling about $420 million from the taxpayer relief fund, and a 50 percent increase in state standard deductions. The deductions will increase from $3,000 to $4,500 for individuals and $6,000 to $9,000 for married couples in the next tax year.

Cap on deductions

The relief does not include $107.5 million in tax revenues the state expects by maintaining a $313,000 cap on total deductions by the wealthiest Virginians, which the Trump tax law removes at the federal level.

The cap, known as the Pease Limitation, essentially protects revenues Virginia already has been receiving, so the revised budget requires the money to flow into the state’s revenue reserve fund, not the new pot of money for taxpayer relief.

“We should not give money back to taxpayers unless they’re going to be harmed,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said.

Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, the senior Democrat on the House Finance Committee, insisted on maintaining the cap, especially since the tax reform package already benefits wealthy Virginians by allowing them to continue to deduct more than $10,000 a year in local real estate and other property taxes they pay. The federal law limits the deduction of state and local taxes for federal taxpayers.

Watts thinks the Pease money should have gone into the taxpayer relief fund, where it could be used to help taxpayers left out of the new state law — working families earning less than $22,000, whose tax liability is covered by an Earned Income Tax Credit but who don’t get a refund on the unused amount.

“I regard this as a conscious tax policy change on the federal side and our response to it,” she said of the Pease cap.

Northam had proposed to make the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable, allowing eligible taxpayers to get a check for the amount not used to cover their tax liability. Republicans dismissed the idea as soon as the governor proposed it in August and Democrats were unable to restore it in the budget.

The final budget ensured that more than $330 million will be deposited into the revenue reserve in this biennium — the Pease money and additional tax revenues from the permanent provisions of the federal tax law for businesses. The money represents the biggest chunk of the $565.5 million that will be deposited in the reserve in the budget.

Reserve funds

Combined with deposits in the constitutionally established Revenue Stabilization Fund — a rainy day fund for severe downturns in state revenues — House budget officials estimate that Virginia’s total reserves will exceed $1.4 billion by the end of the two-year budget cycle on June 30, 2020.

Some House Democrats questioned why the state is holding so much money in reserve, rather than spending it to meet pressing public needs. Watts defended the approach as wise in the face of potential cutbacks in federal spending that would hurt the state economy, especially in Northern Virginia.

“We can’t afford to run up to the edge of the cliff,” she said.

The tax package creates a third fund that will receive $165 million to $240 million a year in the five fiscal years beyond the current two-year budget. Altogether, the fund will exceed $1 billion, including almost $350 million in the two-year budget the governor will propose in December for 2020-2022.

“There’s going to be a ton of money for the governor’s biennial budget,” Layne said.

The money represents additional state revenues resulting from the Trump tax law that would not be directly returned to Virginia taxpayers under the policy changes state lawmakers made this year.

The policy changes — primarily the temporary increase in standard deductions — are projected to return more than $300 million each year to affected taxpayers, but the rest of the windfall will go into the taxpayer relief fund.

“Just like any other bill dealing with money, it has to be appropriated,” said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, who also is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Virginia’s two-year budget cycle prevents lawmakers from deciding how to handle revenues beyond mid-2020. “We took our best shot at it,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus.

In the next two-year budget cycle “the revenues for taxpayer relief are going to be substantial,” Newman said, “and we anticipate another policy change or another taxpayer refund.”

Northam endorsed the tax legislation in part because it didn’t decide exactly how the state will provide tax relief, Layne said. “A key to the compromise for the administration is that this money would be used for either further tax reforms or future investments that would be equally beneficial to taxpayers.”

By the time the temporary provisions are scheduled to expire, Virginia will have elected a new governor, a new Senate (twice) and new House (three times).

“This is for future legislatures and governors to decide,” Layne said.

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Budget deal reached as assembly looks for exit

Budget deal reached as assembly looks for exit

Posted by on Feb 23, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times Dispatch, February 22, 2019.

The General Assembly finally reached agreement late Friday on revisions to Virginia’s two-year budget, setting the stage for a race to adopt the spending plan and adjourn as scheduled on Saturday.

The budget agreement comes too late to allow the House of Delegates and Senate to vote on the package Saturday, unless two-thirds of each chamber agree to waive their rules that call for giving lawmakers at least 48 hours to review such a spending compromise.

Getting consensus to waive the rules might not be hard at the end of a 46-day session that has been shrouded in scandal and election-year politics.

“Let’s see if there is anyone who wants to stay another two days,” Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Friday afternoon, hours before budget negotiators finally reached agreement after days of grueling, off-and-on negotiations.

Senate Republican Caucus spokesman Jeff Ryer said the House and Senate plan to post the proposed changes to the state’s existing two-year budget online by 10 a.m. The two chambers will convene at noon and immediately recess in order to receive briefings on the budget proposals. Waiving the 48-hour rule in order to vote on the package Saturday would require the assent of 27 senators and 67 delegates.

The big budget issues already appeared to have been settled by Friday morning — raises for public employees and teachers, funding for K-12 education, incentives for colleges and universities to not raise tuition, financial aid for economically disadvantaged students, extra money to help people find affordable housing and not lose it to eviction.

The spending initiatives reflected many of the priorities of Gov. Ralph Northam, who urged a focus on “equity issues” as he attempts to restore confidence after a scandal that began three weeks ago over a racist photo on his page of his 1984 medical school yearbook.

“Despite the political distractions, I’m glad the legislators recognized many of the equity positions that the governor included in his budget and funded them,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said Friday night.

Efforts to complete negotiations this week were hampered by demanding floor sessions as both chambers pushed to reconcile their differences on legislation.

The conference committee reconvened on Friday afternoon and negotiated final differences on the budget, including higher education and spending on capital projects.

“Higher education was the big winner,” House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said Friday night.

The budget compromise includes $57.7 million for what Jones called “tuition relief” for colleges and universities that agree to freeze their tuition rates next year. It also restores $15.5 million in financial aid that Northam had proposed. Initially, the Senate had supported and the House had eliminated it with the hope that the additional state funding would relieve the need for aid, by freezing tuition.

The plan also includes $16.6 million for colleges and universities that reach agreements with the state to expand production of undergraduate degrees in computer science and related fields. The plan is part of the “tech talent pipeline” that the state would create under pending legislation as part of its commitment to Amazon for its $2.5 billion investment in a new headquarters in Arlington County that is expected to create at least 25,000 high-paying jobs.

On the capital side, the budget compromise would provide $105 million to Virginia Commonwealth University for a new building planned for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. However, it does not include planning money for a proposed $200 million expansion of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

“We took a breather on planning for capital,” Jones said.

The capital budget does include $168 million for the $1 billion Innovation Campus that Virginia Tech plans in Alexandria to expand graduate education in computer science and related fields as part of the state’s commitments to Amazon.

Closer to home, the budget includes $2.7 million in operating support for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Prince George County, but eliminates money the House had included to buy the building from the University of Virginia Foundation.

The budget does not include more than $1 billion in “limited time” spending that Northam had proposed with additional state revenues because of federal tax reforms.

However, it includes money for some of his priorities, including $74 million for water quality programs, $15 million to expand access to broadband, and $3 million for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to promote affordable housing.

The budget includes raises for state employees, teachers, college faculty, sheriff’s deputies and other state-supported local employees.

The 1 percent for state employees — a combination of across-the-board raises and merit pay — would go on top of the 2 percent raise and 2 percent in merit pay already scheduled to take effect on July 1. It would eliminate a one-time, 1 percent bonus that Northam proposed.

The tentative deal also would add 1 percent in salary for college faculty and state-supported local employees, who already are due 2 percent raises under the current two-year budget. Teachers would be eligible for an additional 2 percent raise, on top of the 3 percent already in the budget, if their school divisions fund their share.

For K-12 education, the budget would restore about $25 million in funding that Northam had proposed for “at-risk” students in Richmond and other school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

The budget compromise does not include language that the Senate had tucked into the back of the budget to decriminalize marijuana possession and set up a study on gambling in Virginia.

The proposed gambling study is one of several high-profile legislative disputes the assembly will have to settle separately on Saturday.

“Tomorrow could be an extremely long day,” Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said Friday. (804) 649-6964

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‘Trump tax scheme’ or taxpayer relief? Budgets pass easily, and a tax deal is still cooking

‘Trump tax scheme’ or taxpayer relief? Budgets pass easily, and a tax deal is still cooking

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in News | 0 comments

BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times Dispatch, February 7, 2019.

The House of Delegates and Senate took different paths to passing a new state budget on Thursday, but they could come together soon over Virginia tax policy.

The House adopted its version of an amended two-year budget on a 73-25 vote, after a two-hour partisan battle over tax policy and spending in the aftermath of a federal tax reform law signed more than a year ago by President Donald Trump.

In contrast, the Senate briskly adopted its version of the budget on a 40-0 vote after agreeing to half a dozen spending increases totaling $22.5 million. The deal drew Republicans and Democrats closer together on how to handle an expected $1.2 billion windfall from higher taxes on Virginia taxpayers because of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“It is a significant step forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, who called the unanimous vote “nothing short of miraculous” in a chamber that divided sharply along party lines over tax policy a week ago.

The House, Senate and the administration of embattled Gov. Ralph Northam were working late Thursday to reach agreement on how to conform Virginia’s tax code to the new federal tax law so the state can process the more than 550,000 tax returns it has already received, issue refunds, and give guidance to taxpayers on the rules they must follow.

Northam, a Democrat, is under siege in a scandal that erupted almost a week ago because of a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. The governor wants quick conformity of the tax codes before deciding on changes to state tax policy in an election year for all 140 legislative seats.

The coming elections loomed over the budget in the narrowly divided House, where a rhetorical battle raged over whether the proposed budget “doubled down on the Trump tax scheme” by shifting income tax revenues to higher-earning households or reversed a potential backdoor tax increase on middle-class Virginia families.

Ultimately, the question was whether to spend the “limited time” money generated by temporary provisions of the Trump tax law or hold $950 million in anticipated revenues in a proposed “taxpayer relief fund” until lawmakers can determine how to return it to the taxpayers who will pay higher state taxes.

Democrats battled unsuccessfully to restore cuts in spending on financial aid for college students, affordable housing, school modernization and stormwater management funds for flood-prone localities, while boosting the state’s financial reserves.

“Do we want to squander this opportunity by doubling down on the Trump tax scheme?” asked Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, former House minority leader.

House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, led the defense of the budget his committee produced.

“You can’t say you’re against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and then say you want to spend the money, because you can’t have it both ways,” Jones said during a debate over education spending.

The House budget would cut money for school divisions with a high percentage of at-risk students from low-income homes, but would increase funding from the Virginia Lottery that school systems could spend as they like without having to match it with local funds, he said.

Similarly, the budget would cut financial aid proposed by Northam for colleges and universities, but offer almost $46 million in state money to those institutions if they agree not to raise tuition on in-state students, Jones said. “If you do not increase the need for tuition, the demand for financial aid does not grow.”

The House budget would not change Virginia tax policy, he said, only sequester the windfall until policymakers decide what to do with it.

But Democrats took aim at separate legislation passed by the House early this week that would make major changes in tax policy in ways they said would give money to high-income households that benefited most from the Trump tax cuts but would pay disproportionately less in state taxes than more modest working families.

“We have produced a House tax policy that does not return the money to the people who paid it,” said Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, who has led the Democratic opposition to tax legislation approved by a party-line vote on Monday.

Democrats produced their own tax relief plan in a floor amendment that would have given a $200 refund to households earning less than $50,000 a year and $100 to those earning between $50,000 and $125,000 a year.

“Here’s your opportunity to vote for a tax cut,” Toscano told Republicans.

The House killed the proposal on a 51-48 party-line vote.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, sponsor of the Republican tax policy proposal, framed the budget vote in purely partisan terms.

“There is not a tax increase they don’t endorse,” he said of Democrats. “There’s not a spending plan they don’t embrace.”

But 22 Democrats joined the Republican majority in voting for the final budget. Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, also voted with Republicans in defense of the proposed taxpayer relief fund, which survived by a 51-47 margin.

“I thought it was a reasonable way, since we didn’t have agreement on tax policy, to hold the money in one place until we decide,” said Sickles, a member of the conference committee that will begin work next week to reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals.

In the Senate, the Republican majority soothed Democratic objections by agreeing to increased spending on initiatives to hire lawyers to help people avoid eviction from rental housing, improve water quality, add school counselors, provide permanent supportive housing for people with behavioral health problems, expand affordable housing, and assist localities in controlling stormwater.

“The Democrats and the Republicans got together on a collaborative basis and we were able to reach an understanding,” Norment said.

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