Commentary, Guest Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

We are officially into the New Year and legislators will soon return to the Virginia State Capitol for the General Assembly. There will be no shortage of issues debated, including women’s reproductive rights, workforce development, the environment, and how best to be fiscally-responsible with taxpayer money. Hot button bills will be introduced to capture the hearts and minds of voters for Virginia’s state house elections on November 7, 2023.

On December 15, the Governor addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate money committees, proposing amendments to the adopted biennial budget which went into effect on July 1. Legislators are now tasked with revising the spending plan based on the most current data and forecasts to close out this fiscal year and gear up for the next. Thoughtful stewardship,  due diligence, and conservative spending have been the criteria best positioning Virginia’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

In his recent remarks, Governor Youngkin told us to “buckle up” for his proposed approach to address many unmet needs and challenges facing Virginians. Simultaneously, he is proposing tax relief for wealthy individuals and successful businesses. Let me be clear, state budgeting does not fit into private sector molds easily. Virginia’s balanced budget is rooted in formulas found in the Constitution, the Code of Virginia, and existing regulations. Make no mistake that Virginia’s economic well-being will not be the equivalent to a December joyride on Santa’s sleigh.  

Starting January 11, the General Assembly will begin its thoughtful consideration of how best to address revenue and state spending that enhance the quality of life for Virginians and meet the various challenges ahead. Data driven forecasts, the Commonwealth’s bond rating, its obligations, and long-existing unmet needs will all compete when we sift through the many amendments that will be in front of the money committees.  

It is important to note that Virginia has consistently been ranked among the best places to do business. Critical elements including the cost of doing business, a skilled workforce, and public policy that enriches quality of life are incentives for headquartering in Virginia. While it is a good sound bite to suggest lowering corporate income taxes, this has not been the top desire of Virginia’s business community that I encounter. Rather, they seek a trained workforce with meaningful investments from the government in public K-12 through higher education. Across this country, there is a workforce shortage. The critical question is how to train and upskill new and existing workers into their respective fields whether it is through a degree, certification, or credential.    

Public policy must be inclusive and not be mired in homophobia nor restrict access to healthcare. Hidden in the fine print of Governor Youngkin’s budget proposal is language to support his campaign’s secret support for rescinding reproductive rights as well as criminalizing the medical procedure necessary to terminate a pregnancy. To be honest, it comes as no surprise considering he “couldn’t talk about the issue” during the 2021 campaign but now publicly states he would willingly and gleefully sign any restrictive legislation that comes to his desk.   

It is good to know this Administration is looking at addressing some of the most pressing problems in our Commonwealth – access to healthcare, mental health and behavioral issues, public safety, learning loss, and the workforce pipeline to cite a few. These are chronic matters that need to be addressed with a long-term sustainable vision. Addiction is a lifelong battle for many Virginians if it doesn’t kill them first. Workforce development starts at the earliest ages including Pre-K learning and/or affordable childcare for working parents. Recruiting, training, and retaining law enforcement, medical practitioners and educators are priorities that will ultimately make Virginia competitive in the global economy. 

Public safety should not be compromised because first responders are compensated at levels that limit the pool of those willing to work in public service. Educators have traditionally been underpaid and are leaving their profession in droves post-pandemic. Many medical professions are also facing vast shortages in qualified staff because programs to train the next generation of workers quickly and efficiently do not exist. 

We have a lot of work to do during this short legislative session. As the Majority Leader in the Senate, I will continue to work with Senate Democrats and colleagues from across the aisle who share a long-term, responsible vision so that all Virginians have equal opportunity to learn and earn while choosing Virginia as the best place to live and raise a family.