The state budget passed Wednesday by the General Assembly includes funding for a few projects that will specifically benefit northern Shenandoah Valley residents and visitors.
Local lawmakers voting for the biennium budget were House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah; House Republican Whip Michael Webert, R-Fauquier; Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester; Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville; and Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke. State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, voted against it.
"I think we're very satisfied," Gilbert said of the budget, touting the budget's tax relief measures, education investment, and support for law enforcement and small businesses.
The budget offers nearly $4 billion in tax relief, increases pay for teachers and other public employees, boosts K-12 education spending and funds roadwork and school construction projects.
Lawmakers had to return to the Capitol in a special session to finish the budget because they deadlocked over the spending plan in March. Talks were held privately among a handful of negotiators.
Gilbert said "ample" amounts of funding has been set aside in the budget to purchase a 48.5-mile unused Norfolk Southern Railway track to create the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail from Broadway to Front Royal. An exact amount hasn't been determined as a "fair" purchase price is still being negotiated, Gilbert said.
About $4.75 million will go toward improvements in the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, including signage, parking, trailheads, restrooms as well as completing the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum and creating the New Market History and Education Center.
Another $2.5 million will go toward the Northwestern Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center (CITAC) at Winchester Medical Center and allow it to offer services 23 hours per day, seven days per week.
At the center, which. are two rooms at WMC, law enforcement watch over mental health patients awaiting placement at a treatment facility instead of keeping them in emergency rooms. It previously had been open just five days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Wiley, who could not be reached for comment Friday, had requested $5 million for the CITAC and Gooditis had requested $7.5 million with $5 million going toward establishing a behavioral health urgent care center with Valley Health and the rest going to increase staffing at the CITAC.
Although Obenshain said he supported the pay increase for teachers and law enforcement, he voted against the budget because he thought it didn’t do enough with the state's $16 billion surplus to help taxpayers amid rising inflation and gas costs.
Obenshain spoke on the floor of the state Senate on Wednesday stating he had been advocating for years for funding to improve Interstate 81, but it was a section of Interstate 64, east of Richmond, that was getting money.
Webert, who also couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, offered a prepared statement about the small business initiatives in the budget.
“Businesses in Virginia, especially small businesses, have taken a beating in the past few years due to COVID and related measures, and now inflation. I’m proud to say that this budget takes significant steps to change that,” Webert said in the statement. “The budget replenishes the unemployment trust fund whole again, so businesses won’t be on the hook for higher taxes to make up the difference. It also ends the ‘accelerated sales tax’ gimmick once and for all, putting every business in Virginia back on an equal footing.”
Gooditis said by phone interview Friday that she was glad to see funding for school construction but wished the payments came in the form of direct grants instead of loans.
The affordable housing funding request was also cut in half to $75,000 each of the next two years, Gooditis added, saying, "I'm not happy about that because affordable housing is more and more of a desperate need in this state."
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin can amend the budget bill and then the General Assembly will reconvene to either accept or reject his changes. Youngkin said in a statement earlier in the week that the compromise budget provided a “good framework.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.