Gov. Glenn Youngkin to General Assembly: 'We have to compete to win'
Gov. Glenn Youngkin put economic competition at the forefront of his plans for Virginia during his State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
“We face relentless competition from surrounding states. We have to compete to win,” said Youngkin, a former private equity executive, after listing his administration’s accomplishments in his first year of governing.
Youngkin is asking the General Assembly to approve upward of $1 billion in tax cuts, arguing that a projected $3.6 billion surplus is because Virginians are overtaxed.
He is also calling to further increase the standard deduction on state taxes. In his speech, Youngkin said the change would benefit lower- and middle-income taxpayers.
As he outlined this part of his plan, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw commented from the audience.
“No, it helps the wealthy,” the Springfield state senator said as he watched the speech. Democrats have generally preferred making the earned income tax credit fully refundable, meaning low-income families could claim the entire credit.
Youngkin is also supporting plans to expand school choice, aka voucher programs.
Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), who carried some of the administration’s priority legislation on charter schools last year, has proposed a bill on a new statewide program. As Megan Pauly reported for VPM News, the proposal would allow families to use state monies in “education success accounts” to cover “tuition and fees at private schools, tuition at Virginia institutions of higher education, tutoring fees, curriculum materials, after-school or summer school programming and more.”
Afterward, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond) said she was very concerned with the speech’s education rhetoric.
“There seems to be a clear motive to steer public funds away from our schools and put them into charter schools and to private hands,” she said. “And that's very concerning to all of the parents and the community members I'm talking to.”
Youngkin also reiterated his support for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A number of abortion-related bills, including total bans on abortion in the state, have already been filed.
One bill, introduced by Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg), would ban abortions after 15 weeks and make it a felony to perform them.
Democrat and former House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn tweeted to criticize the governor as he spoke on the topic. “@governorva sells himself as a moderate, but all abortion bans are extreme and put politicians in control of people’s personal medical decisions,” the tweet read.
“A ban is a ban. There is no compromise when it comes to religious and reproductive liberty. @GovernorVA sells himself as a moderate, but all abortion bans are extreme and put politicians in control of people’s personal medical decisions.”
— Eileen Filler-Corn (@EFillerCorn) January 11, 2023
Democrats generally did not join Republicans in applauding Youngkin’s plans and references, but many did when Youngkin spoke of his plans for funding Virginia’s behavioral health system. Officials and legislators have warned the current system is stretched thin.
Youngkin is asking legislators for $230 million to fund the first step of his three-year behavioral health plan. Ensuring same-day care, reducing the amount of law enforcement resources spent on transporting patients, and funding for substance-use treatment are all part of the governor’s plan.
One of the most raucous responses from Youngkin’s party came on the topic of vehicle emissions.
Democrats passed legislation in 2021 to join 16 other states in following emissions standards set by California, which are stricter than those set by the federal government.
“Because lawmakers outsourced their responsibilities and surrendered our values to California — Virginians face a mandate starting in 2024 that limits and eventually bans the buying of gas-powered cars or trucks,” Youngkin said, referencing California’s recently passed ban on gas powered cars by 2035.
“Some of the things he said were just outright untrue. It's not a choice between California standards or Virginia standards: Virginia can't write its own standards for the clean cars,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat representing Richmond. Air quality standards are currently governed by the federal Clean Air Act.
Youngkin is also asking for $100 million for an expensive sewer and stormwater project in Richmond to prevent sewage from entering the James River. Hashmi welcomed that proposal.
“I'm happy to see that funding will be allocated,” Hashmi said. “But one thing we need to assure is that the city has the time to do it properly. It is a significant engineering problem.”
How much of Youngkin’s legislative and budget agenda comes to fruition will be limited by a divided General Assembly. Democrats control the State Senate with a recently expanded majority, while Republicans hold the House of Delegates.
Youngkin seemed to frame the potential stalemate in his speech as political: “There are a few who simply and inexplicably will put more value on political stalemate than unified achievement.”
Democratic Party leaders framed some of their priorities as playing defense or protecting legislation they had passed while in the majority as legislators gathered in a lighthearted atmosphere on the first day of session.
“There's going to be a lot of blocking and tackling and a lot of defense,” said Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) at a press conference by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
Youngkin’s speech also contained conservative themes heard on the national stage: a barb thrown at President Joe Biden over inflation, and warnings of China seeking “global domination at the expense of the United States.”
Nationally, Youngkin is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate. In remarks with reporters after his speech, the governor sidestepped a question whether his agenda played into presidential aspirations, but did not deny them: “Our agenda is 100% focused on what's best for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
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