School construction bill a target for potential veto override

by | Apr 16, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Government

The General Assembly is likely headed for a special session before adopting its budget ahead of a statutory July 1 deadline, an outcome that could leave school districts — including Fredericksburg’s — in limbo as they look to finalize their own funding. 

“Because of the conversation happening around Richmond… there is not agreement on the budget and the governor’s amendments on the budget,” Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) told the Free Press in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Cole’s comments come on the eve of a pivotal veto session where legislators will also address more than 200 of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed amendments to the budget.  

One bill — out of approximately 150 vetoed by the governor — with local implications is SB14, which would allow all counties and localities to impose a sales tax, up to 1%, to cover school building construction or renovations. The optional tax would first need to be approved via referendum.  

During a joint work session held by the Fredericksburg City Council and Fredericksburg City School Board on April 2, Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley said city officials “had our eyes on” SB14, which he added could be used retroactively toward debt service on the city’s new middle school, which is currently under construction and set to open in 2025.  

“We’re eagerly awaiting what the governor’s going to do with that,” Whitley said, two weeks before Youngkin vetoed it.  

Cole explained that several delegates carried separate versions of the bill encompassing their respective localities before it was rolled into an omnibus bill that ultimately passed the House 68-28 on Feb. 26 and the Senate 25-14 two days later.  

“We know that our schools in the Fredericksburg region are behind,” Cole said. “We’re over capacity. I’m passionate about it, because we know we need schools. We need newer schools, and we need the ability to expand. Most of our schools are well over capacity, and they’re not what we need them to be.”  

To override a veto, legislators need a two-thirds majority in both houses. Democrats hold a 51-49 edge in seats in the House and a 21-19 advantage in the Senate, making overrides unlikely in all but a few cases. Cole believes the school construction bill is one such possible exception.  

The bill’s respective patrons, Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) and Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William), are both “middle of the road legislators, who are able to pull Republicans over to support,” explained Cole. Additionally, school construction cropped up as a major campaign issue in southwest Virginia, where there’s a large concentration of Republican legislators who might be swayed to support an override.  

“We’ve heard that Republican officials are not happy with the governor’s actions on that particular piece of legislation,” Cole said. “I know for a fact that those conversations have been had and are still being had.” 

If a budget special session is required, it would be called by the governor between May and June, Cole said. Vetoes alone could carry over into Thursday.

“Tomorrow will most likely be a long day,” Cole said. 

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