The month of March has arrived and brings with it the anticipated conclusion of the General Assembly on March 12. After the November 2 election, we anticipated the political game plan for the new Republican majority in the House of Delegates. However, what has been startling are the aggressive attacks by this fledgling administration on public education, public health measures, voter rights, the environment, and working families.
In light of a series of executive orders from the Administration, it is a bit ironic when the Governor states “there is more that unites us than divides us.” Senate Democrats have held the line to ensure past legislative progress withstands these assaults. Conversely, the new majority in the House has taken great pains to aid and abet he Governor’s agenda by introducing rollback legislation and proposing spending cuts.
Far and away the most contentious issue of the session has centered around local authority and pandemic protocols in our schools. Governor Youngkin took a victory lap when he signed SB 739/HB 1272 into law after amending it with a March 1 emergency enactment date. I voted against these bills because they affirmed the loud voices of a disruptive minority. The bills cancelled local authority to set policy reflective of their communities and disavowed science-based strategies to stem the spread of Covid-19.
In the final days of this General Assembly, building the biennial budget is the most pressing item left for consideration. A lot of ink has been dedicated to the recent exchange that I had with Sec’y Cummings as he presented impressive revenue numbers. Despite the good news data, the Governor is trying to paint an economic picture of economic gloom and doom. I challenge that rhetoric by reminding the Secretary of Finance that Virginia is fiscally well-positioned and is enjoying a steady climb back from the pandemic stranglehold of the past two years.
The successful navigation of the Covid-19 pandemic came from evidence-based science as well as pumping the brakes on spending. Virginia’s surplus is the result of reforecasting and making adjustments.
Northern Virginia contributes greatly to the Commonwealth’s economic stability by providing roughly half of the state’s income. Thanks to its robust infrastructure and flexible work options, many professionals, government contractors, and federal workers were able to continue working during the pandemic. As a result, tax revenue flowed to state coffers while spending was redirected to addressing the immediate healthcare impacts of the pandemic and providing for our children and elderly.
Let’s not forget about the infusion of ARPA, PPP, and other federal dollars that became available to offset a national recession and/or potential depression. The Senate has traditionally been the more temperate chamber when crafting the state spending plan. Acting on the introduced budget, Senate Finance and Appropriation Committee members have focused on a structurally balanced budget. The Senate has proposed sustainable investments in public education including capital improvements, increased compensation for teachers and law enforcement, the environment and water quality improvements, mental health services, and other aid to localities.
On the other hand, the House proposed budget removes more than $3 billion from the revenues on hand through one-time refunds, doubling tax credits, and trimming existing programs like voter education. Their budget also includes less for teachers, law enforcement, and reduced spending on essential social services like mental health.
I am committed to the Senate proposal because it addresses many unmet needs. Support for elimination of the grocery tax has been around for years. I can support that initiative if our localities are kept whole. Let’s not forget the primary revenue source for localities is property taxes.
The final days of this session are guaranteed to be stressful and polarized by political ideology. My mission remains to advance the best policy for the majority of Virginians that find themselves somewhere in the middle of the political mainstream. We are equally disturbed by the aggressive conflict Russia has started in Europe and its potential impact in the U.S. and Virginia.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.