June 1, 2022
Earlier today, I voted against the State of Virginia’s 2022-24 budget.
This budget includes many historic and critical investments in our Commonwealth. It provides raises and pandemic bonuses for our teachers, expands access to early childhood education, and invests in affordable housing initiatives. However, this budget was decided largely behind closed doors, with little input from the public. There are several areas where I believe that the budget falls short.
First, the budget reverses justice reform measures by creating new crimes for simple possession of marijuana. We know that marijuana criminalization and the war on drugs disproportionately targets and criminalizes Black and brown Virginians. Just last year, we passed legislation to legalize marijuana possession, and this year’s legislative attempts to recriminalize failed. Including this language in the budget is a legislative workaround that goes against the votes of legislators and the will of Virginians.
Though the budget includes critical funding for teachers and school construction, it fails to fully invest in our most at-risk youth. The At-Risk Add-On is a program that directs additional state funds to school districts with a high concentration of low-income families. Governor Northam’s introduced budget included close to $270 million in additional At-Risk Add-On funds. The budget agreement we voted on today cuts these funds in half. Many schools across our Commonwealth, including right here in Richmond, depend on these funds to function. Over the past few years, our teachers and school systems have had to adapt constantly to changing conditions. We should not ask them to make yet another change; to reconfigure their budgets because of a loss of funds for our most vulnerable students.
Additionally, the budget lacks funding for gun violence prevention in our Commonwealth. While we are constantly working toward improving gun safety, this issue has been in the forefront of our minds after the violence of the past few months. Originally, the Senate budget pledged $22 million to create the Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant fund. This fund will allow Virginians to engage in grassroots violence prevention and develop programs that best serve their communities. Unfortunately, the funds for this were cut back to $8 million in the final budget.
Budgets are moral documents, and our Commonwealth’s budget reflects the values and priorities of Virginians. I could not in good faith vote for this budget knowing that it goes against the values that my constituents hold dear; values of achieving justice, providing for all of our children, and protecting our communities from violence. While I am pleased by the investments that we have made in school construction, teachers, affordable housing, and more, I know that we still have a long way to go.